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The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and "Tougher Standards"

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  564 ratings  ·  59 reviews
In this “lively, provocative and well-researched book” (Theodore Sizer), Alfie Kohn builds a powerful argument against the “back to basics” philosophy of teaching and simplistic demands to “raise the bar.” Drawing on stories from real classrooms and extensive research, Kohn shows parents, educators, and others interested in the debate how schools can help students explore ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published September 5th 2000 by Mariner Books (first published 1999)
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Oct 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: education
I have reading some more current stuff about education this summer while I haven’t been doing school. A few of the books I read I would highly recommend: especially The Schools our Children Deserve by Alfie Kohn.
This book is a response to ED Hirsch’s The Schools We Need and Diane Ravitch’s book The Schools We Deserve. Ravitch, Hirsch and William Bennett (I also read his book The Educated Child) are some of the most prominent voices leading the conservative movement on education so I thought I w
Andy Mitchell

A couple of personal notes / direct quotes from the book:

Deborah Meier's five "Habits of Mind"

1. Evidence, or "How do we know what we know?"
2. Point of view, or "Whose perspective does this represent?"
3. Connections, or "How is this related to that?"
4. Supposition, or "How might things have been otherwise?"
5. Relevance, or "Why is this important?"

Howard Gardner likes to invite teachers to pretend they've only been given one hour with students to do something on the subject of t
Apr 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Clearly articulates with research the best ways for students to learn, for teachers to teach, and for schools to operate. As a student, I was raised in a "traditional" school system, and as a teacher, I am currently traditional (as much as it pains me to say). After reading this book, I want to become more and more progressive, which will only benefit my students. I devoured this book.
Feb 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I truly enjoyed reading this book. Kohn makes a well drafted argument for why the one-size-fits-all, traditional approach of schooling does not produce learning, but does produce quantifiable ranking. And, for even those students that do 'well' in school, they show low retention, and most devastating, a lack of motivation to continue learning.

The book is broken down into two parts: 1 - Tougher Standards Versus Better Education and 2 - For the Love of Learning. He essentially shows the negative
Brian Conor
Jul 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Kohn gave me a lot to think about, especially how his ideas 20 years ago relate to current conceptions of progressive education. But it is a good lot. A lot of work still needs to be done, but Kohn's fundamental ideas that teaching and learning should be inquiry-based and centered on students will never be outdated.
Jun 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I'm re-reading this book for the third time now and it won't be the last. After my first read of the book I had to pleasure of hearing Kohn speak and he's as good now as he was when he wrote it. Every educator needs to read this, especially administrators and those tasked with setting educational policy.

Kohn identifies the issue as at the center of the problem with modern American schooling as our focus on the measurable and the controllable. We've turned our schools into virtual factories, as i
Nov 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: teachers and parents of school aged children
Shelves: education
This book completely re-inspired my desire to be a progressive teacher in a school system that is laden with traditional teachers and classrooms (I sub in them every day). Kohn provides a lot of research to back up his position that traditional classrooms are simply failing kids and not providing them with the engaging, and meaningful learning experiences they deserve. It confirmed what I already believe about education but reminded me of how important it is to fight for change as a teacher and ...more
Jul 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: education
Never a disappointment with Alfie Kohn. With his actual research based evidence and his debunking of other "educational researchers" data, Kohn explains that the old school approach of drill and kill, rewarding, competition, grades, and standardized testing is doing more harm than good. When compared to other countries who are actually doing better in achievement scores, yet they aren't teacher centered, textbook driven, test oriented, homework demanded institutions. They are community driven, i ...more
Graham Slater
Aug 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
As usual, Alfie Kohn doesn't pull any punches and covers just about every conceivable base in a well-formed, perfectly cogent argument of how to create the type of schools our children deserve. Kohn remains one of my favorite writers on educational topics.
Jen Marin
In The Schools Our Children Deserve, Alfie Kohn delves into the research that demonstrates what I have always felt in my bones: the educational system needs a massive overhaul. Yes, there are great schools out there. There are even more great teachers. But ask a great teacher, and many will tell you that they, too, feel hamstrung by a system that is overly concerned with achievement, competition, coercion, standardized testing, and the belief that 'harder equals better.'
When we focus on how we
Bryan Gaskill
Mar 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
In 2000 this book would have blown my mind— I would have been a freshman in high school. Even in 2008, after graduating from college, I would have seen this book as visionary. The book is filled with great information, but as a teacher who has implemented a “gradeless classroom” this does not see so far fetched. Great information and a great place to begin for anyone trying to imagine educational change.
Oct 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Was this book good? Sure. Impactful? Sure. Realistic in today’s educational climate? Not really.
Jun 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
An insightful read on all that's wrong with our educational system and a few good ideas on all that can be changed.
Mar 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: teaching
An amazing case made for nontraditional schooling. I expect to use many of its ideas in my future classroom! It really made me feel even more excited about teaching.
Apr 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Alfie Kohn is a man with a point of view, and he's not shy about sharing it. This book is a call to action, almost a call for revolution, and if you're not with him, you're against him, on the side of the bad guys, the killjoys.. You know... the *adults*.

Kohn is always, always on the kids' side, particularly with regard to education and discipline. I am sure any bright teenager who reads his books is cheering the whole time.

As a former kid turned adult, (a defector?) I find myself a little torn.
Moses Hetfield
Dec 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: current and future educators and parents
While The Schools Our Children Deserve was not quite as mind-blowing for me as Kohn's earlier book Punished by Rewards , it was still an incredibly thought-provoking read about what education should really be about. Kohn challenges his readers to reconsider their beliefs about the nature of knowledge and education, and offers compelling arguments for more progressive models of teaching. This book forced me as a current undergraduate and future teacher to think hard about what I view as the pu ...more
Aug 03, 2011 rated it liked it
This guy is famous in education circles--love him or hate him. This was a pretty good book that presented the argument against the traditional model of education in our country, with evidence to back it up. Pretty convincing, particularly his arguments against the mass use of standardized testing & all of the pitfalls along with that. Interesting that this came out before No Child Left Behind made mass standardized testing even more prevalent... I'm sure he has a lot to say about that & probably ...more
Adam Ross
May 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: education, politics
Kohn is in top form here as he systematically dismantles traditional schooling in favor of what he calls "educational democracy," which emphasizes depth learning and student agency instead of educational authoritarianism and teaching methods that try to just hammer disjointed facts into the heads of students without any reason for knowing them or context for why they're important. As usual, he is armed with a staggering amount of clinical research to demonstrate that virtually every aspect of tr ...more
Apr 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
Reading this book was kind of discouraging. I loved it--but I knew I couldn't find what he described anywhere around me, and I felt really at a loss. At this point, I really didn't think I had anywhere near the abilities needed to provide my kids with what they needed--and this book just cemented that for me.

But that left me pretty much hopeless. Couldn't do regular public schools with all their testing and grading, rewarding and punishing, labeling and categorizing. But I couldn't offer my kid
Nola Redd
Sep 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: parents
Shelves: to-review
This is a great book for anyone who has children in schools - and also for any homeschoolers. It takes a good look at the educational system and what most needs to be reformed, concentrating not only on the here-and-now but the long-range goals. It also makes a good read for homeschoolers because of the way education is portrayed. It discusses the "ideal" and methods for getting there, and though it is primarily focused on the public education system at large, it gives a great jumping-off point ...more
Corrie Campbell
Mar 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: education
Every educator (and parent) should be interested to know what's in this book. Alfie Kohn describes in detail the advantages of a progressive education footnoted with an overwhelming amount of research. Interdisciplinary, conceptual, experiential, collaborative, often ungraded and student driven instruction proves superior to traditional skills-based instruction in study after study. Especially the studies that deal with intrinsic motivation, which is incredibly pertinent if we, as a culture, bel ...more
Jul 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
For parents, teachers, or students examining what is wrong with our school system, this is the perfect place to start. The first section looks at what is wrong with traditional education: top-down school reform, overemphasizing achievement, standardized testing, traditional teaching/learning, and the push towards tougher standards. This alone would make for a great book. But Kohn goes a bit farther by laying out an alternate vision for education in the second half of the book. A great response t ...more
Margie R-O
Sep 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I have to read this in small doses. I get so upset with how we do school in the US, and I couldn't agree more with Alfie about how our schools are headed in the wrong direction. My son was in a progressive K-8 PUBLIC school and it was a great experience. What a shame more schools aren't switching to in-depth, child-directed learning. We want innovative adults after years of mind-numbing education. Hello, what's wrong with that picture? Whoops, there I go getting angry again...time to switch book ...more
May 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in progressive approach to education
Presents valid and provokative arguments concerning our current schooling system in the US. The language was accessable, entertaining and appropriate for its intentions. My only beef is that Alfie occasionally makes remarks that are funny but a bit snippy. Could easily be written off as propaganda by it's opposition reading certain sections. It's defifinately for the progressively inclined audience, and probably won't do more than anger the traditionals.
May 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: teaching-general
A complete picture of what stymies education and what might be done about it. Written in 1999, Kohn's thinking is as relevant today as it was at the end of the Clinton administration. For the first half, chapters delve into how education gets motivation, teaching and learning, evaluation, reform, and improvement wrong. The second act explores the ways to make meaningful changes.

Kohn is a must for parents and teachers and anyone who is concerned with the condition of education in the USA.
Angus Mckay
Aug 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
The information contained in this book is so crucial to our crumbling education system, yet those in power choose to ignore it.
Kohn gets a little overly cynical in his writing and can use some over-simplified examples at times, but the content is vital enough to garner the 4 stars I gave.

I recommend skipping the introduction
Sep 18, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: mylibrary
Kohn has some really interesting ideas, but the book is pretty dense read. Really good if you're at all interested in public schools in the US or if you hate standardized testing. Otherwise, it mostly just strengthens beliefs that a lot of us already have.
Jan 11, 2008 rated it liked it
This book seems to be targeted at people who know nothing about constructivist teaching practices, so much of it comes off as repetitive and fairly shallow. Kohn also is a failed public school teacher, which always calls authority into question in my opinion.
May 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book changed my view of education especially when it comes to high stakes standardized tests. It taught me that we don't have to accept the status quo and that there are better ways of teaching. I'd recommend it to teachers and parents who worry about their child's education.
Apr 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Packed with information about how our children learn best, packed with studies, data and facts. This information will make you want to reconsider the possibilities you have never considered as possibilities before, for helping your kids learn.
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Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely on human behavior, education, and parenting. The author of eleven books and scores of articles, he lectures at education conferences and universities as well as to parent groups and corporations.

Kohn's criticisms of competition and rewards have been widely discussed and debated, and he has been described in Time magazine as "perhaps the country's most outspoken

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