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

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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 ideas rather than filling them with forgettable facts and preparing them for standardized tests.

Here at last is a book that challenges the two dominant forces in American education: an aggressive nostalgia for traditional teaching (“If it was bad enough for me, it’s bad enough for my kids”) and a heavy-handed push for Tougher Standards.

352 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1999

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About the author

Alfie Kohn

32 books454 followers
Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely on human behavior, education, and parenting. The author of fourteen 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 critic of education's fixation on grades [and] test scores."

Kohn lives (actually) in the Boston area with his wife and two children, and (virtually) at www.alfiekohn.org.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 62 reviews
Profile Image for Mary.
35 reviews5 followers
October 17, 2008
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 would agree more with them: but I don’t! Their view of education is of a nationalized curriculum that can be force fed to every child in America regardless of their individual strengths, weaknesses, interests, passions etc. and of standardized tests that can hold every teacher, student, school, accountable for every minute of every school day. Their motto seems to be “if we can just motivate (by force) lazy teachers, students and schools to meet these minimum requirements we will achieve our ultimate goal of education which is to: (you will hear this phrase from politicians on every side) COMPET IN THE GLOBAL ECONOMY! Hurray! After reading that, Alfie Kohon’s book was a breath of fresh air. He argues that the goal of education should be for kids to become lifelong learners. His argument is nothing new it is basically just the push for child-centered curriculum, one-one-one instruction, project and discovery based learning, otherwise known as “constructivist” or“progressive” education vs. the “traditionalists” or “behaviorist” push for whole class instruction and verbal instruction, fact memorization, rote- learning, etc. I agree with the “progressives” about instruction, although I tend to agree more with the traditionalists on curriculum- they have a heavier emphasis on the classics which I agree with. Anyway, I could get a lot deeper into this subject if anyone cares. I care a lot about the public schools, even though I am planning to homeschool my own kids, and it has been fascinating to better understand the current debate.

Profile Image for Jason.
386 reviews35 followers
April 28, 2012
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.
Profile Image for Andy Mitchell.
274 reviews60 followers
August 9, 2011

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 the entire course they teach. Figure out what you would do in that single hour, he says, and then do that all year.

Connect to essential questions: horizontal relevance (what I care about now), not vertical relevance (what I need to know for next year's course. I've never understood the theory behind essential questions before. "The trick is to *start not with facts to be taught or disciplines to be mastered, but with questions to be answered.* That may sound straightforward, but it's actually quite rare for learning to be organized around questions."

Interesting class project for a traditional math curriculum: Collaborate to write a textbook for next year's students.
Profile Image for Andrea.
151 reviews29 followers
March 10, 2021
Two decades old and still excellent.

Unfortunately, one book (or a dozen...) is not enough to change a whole school system and while this knowledge isn't more well-known, not much is going to change.

But I'd highly recommend this book and others by Alfie Kohn to anyone having anything to do with education or educating someone. Teachers, professors, parents, members of governments and parliaments who make and apply laws about education, everyone should read at least this book, to see what is wrong with our education systems and how to make them more useful for people.

I'm one of those people who grew up in a very standardized school system (not as much as the one in the USA, but close enough) and excelled at it and hated almost all of it. I was able to get good grades because my brain is a sponge (well, used to be, now it's a sieve) and I could remember the irrelevant stuff needed to pass tests, even on subjects that I didn't understand, nor understand the utility of.

It took me getting to university to finally learn how to learn (and that was one big "aha" moment for me) and even there passing exams was too easy for me because the system is not meant to get you exploring and learning as much as it could (until my PhD, that is, when I crashed and burned spectacularly, into a ball of depression and burnout I never thought possible).

I never found out what I was good at enough to pursue a real career in (writing and editing, that's what I'm good at) and I was always skipping from one thing to the next, hoping that the new thing would be it.

I have no idea what happened with my former classmates, but I'm pretty sure most of them are not happy and fulfilled because of the same reasons. School didn't teach them any life skills.

People who want to become teachers should read this book and understand that their role is not to pass on information, but to create an environment in which students become curious and start exploring on their own. Teachers should be mentors, more than anything, enablers of knowledge and of curiosity.

I'm rambling now, just read the damned book.
655 reviews
June 16, 2019
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 if students were only objects who can be forced to accept all that we have to forcefeed them. As a result instruction has become increasingly less creative, less interesting, and more focused on producing results that standardized tests can measure.

Kohn's solution is to recognize the student as the most important subject of his/her own education, and the ultimate goal being to help the student reach a place where they can both control their own learning and WANT to learn. A student that works towards understanding and competency rather than grades, a student that develops thinking skills and creativity rather than memorizing facts.

How can you move from a teacher-centered education to a student-centered education, how do you move students towards intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic, how do you meaningfully evaluate students without focusing on standardized tests, and how do you bring real school reform that gives each stakeholder the value they deserve? Read the book and you'll see.

Sometimes the writing is a bit repetitive, and while he brings a lot of research into the narrative it isn't always presented as convincingly as it could be. But those technical issues are minor compared to the strength of his overall thesis. If anyone has a better handle on the current deficiencies of the American school system and how it could be better, I would love to read them.
31 reviews
November 25, 2008
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 demand better for kids rather than fall back on the traditional (and weaker) teaching methods that are so pervasive in our schools. I liked the comparisons to teaching practices (he uses Japan a lot for this) to show the cost of traditional teaching to our students (in depth understanding, reasoning abilities). He spends a lot of time on the standardized testing issue and how that's negatively influencing curriculum and teaching methods in Part One but I found Part 2 more interesting and compelling. In that section he profiles some progressive classrooms that are proving the progressive, student centered classrooms are working and working a lot better than their counterparts! I think this should be required reading for teachers (especially the old school ones), parents, and anyone who has a stake or influence in education.
Profile Image for Brian Conor.
52 reviews
July 26, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Jen Marin.
124 reviews14 followers
February 27, 2012
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 are doing, we are not paying as much attention to what we are doing. In education, this means that the more important we make grades, the less the students actually learn. This creates a classroom environment where the student's priority becomes 'Is this going to be on the test?' rather than ‘How does this relate to everything else I know?’ This focus on rank has more insidious effects, as well. If we need to give children grades, then we may only assign them work that is easy to grade. Multiple choice quizzes give a tangible number that the instructor can write in a grade book. It is much harder to grade students on a lively, classroom debate on a topic that isn't even covered in the textbook. Which do you think makes a deeper impression on the student? Where is more learning taking place?
This focus on ranking creates a climate of competition. Classmates are looked at as people to outdo, obstacles on the road to the top. Winning becomes more important than learning. Collaboration is left at the door. This is unfortunate, and has implications beyond childhood. Research demonstrates that deeper learning happens when people collaborate then when people are isolated. Collaboration fosters creativity, communication, and mutual understanding. Working together is essential in the modern world; the problems of the 21st century are far too big for any individual to solve alone. Collaboration is a skill we can develop and nurture, yet we give it little time in the traditional school. Those schools that do make the space for collaborative effort often find it has extraordinary outcomes.
Learning to submit to authority begins early in the traditional school, where students must ask permission to tend to their bodily functions, and get gold stars when they do exactly what is expected of them. Kohn covers the inherent problem of Punishments and Rewards in his book by that name. This behaviorist approach to child development stems from the work of B. F. Skinner, and likens the human mind to a machine or pet that can be trained to the 'right' response by the proper use of reward and punishment. We are not pets or machines, though. Children can be taught to give the right response through these behaviorist methods, but true understanding is not inherent in such rote learning. Understanding comes through engagement with the material because learning is an active process, not merely the memorization of data. One way helps them win at Trivial Pursuit; the other way fosters problem solving and critical thinking.
Conditioning our children to submit to authority has more ominous implications, as well. In 1963 Stanley Milgram published a well-known study in which he learned that people will do surprising things, things far outside their comfort level, if they are told to do so by someone they believe to be in authority. Such studies question the wisdom of raising generations of children who have learned to 'do what they are told.’
As if all of this isn't convincing enough, Kohn takes on standardized testing as well. Textbook and testing companies have been given enormous power to decide what our children should know. But corporations aren’t people, and have different goals than people. What is best for business is not necessarily what is best for our children. These companies design tests which have proven confusing even to professional adults, and give us little meaningful information about what our children actually know. Yet budgets, salaries, and other important decisions are being made using these numbers. Remember, testing companies are in business to make money for the stockholders. When the law requires every child to take their test, the company can be sure that they will leave no profit behind.
Finally, Kohn calls into question the idea that 'harder equals better.' If test scores are down, drill them on testing more. If they aren't learning in school, send more of the same work home with them. If a strategy is ineffective, why do we act as if more of the same will eventually get the results we are aiming for? This perspective is endemic in our culture, and we shouldn't be surprised to find it in our schools. It would be funny if it weren't so sad. Neuroscience tells us that learning is an active process, but also an integrative one. Sometimes, we need to let our mental fields lie fallow for a while so they can grow a new harvest. Harder isn't always better. As John Holt once remarked, “One ironical consequence of the drive for so-called higher standards in schools is that the children are too busy to think.”
So what is better? Learners learn better when they are actively engaged in the material. They become more engaged when they are allowed choice in their education, when they are allowed to collaborate, and when they are allowed to make mistakes. We can take the pressure off of our kids to produce tangible results, and free up energy for them to pursue that which they are passionate about. In some ways, this may be easier for a homeschooler, or a private school to accomplish. But teachers across the country are growing weary of methods that don't work, and recognizing that they might have to think outside the box if they really want to reach students and rediscover the joy and passion in their work. As more people wake up to the ways in which the current educational model doesn’t serve us, they will demand a different approach that honors the humanity and creativity in everyone.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
54 reviews2 followers
April 11, 2013
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 effects of standardized testing because of the overemphasizing of achievement, which may sound odd, but it isn't. Children feel the pressure to compete and do well on tests that have become a large part of their school year. It's a misguided concentration on 'how well' kids are doing in school versus 'what they are learning' in school. The test makers boil things down to the 'wave tops', I guess you could say, and essentially look for memorized facts of superficial intelligence. Deep learning is pushed to the way side by teachers because their job may be in jeopardy because of test scores. This undercuts what learning should be.

Essentially, the type of education (real learning) he is campaigning for won't happen on the large scale because the culture of our nation is about competition. Be the best. Get into the top schools, get top scores on your SATs. He gives ample evidence why this type of approach is damaging to children and young adults.

Of the two types of test, I think it was about 29 states that use norm referencing testing, which is more pernicious because it ranks students against one another. So, it doesn't really tell you whether you've learned something (regardless of it's level of superficiality) it just tells you how you did compared to everyone else in your class. So, if 20 people take the State's test that has 100 questions and no one gets more than 10 wrong (90%), that student that got 10 wrong is still told they are at the bottom of the barrel, when in reality they retained 90% of what was taught to them - regardless of what we might think of the content of the test - at least we know the student in the bottom of the barrel retained it. But the results are delivered to sort or rank the students against one another. Sadly, students look to others as competition versus potential collaborators (and let's face it, adults collaborate at work). So, is the competition even something worth engendering?

He goes on to break down the negative impact of emphasizing achievement into five quantifiable categories: Interest, Reaction to Failure, Avoidance of Challenge, and Quality of Learning. Ok, so that's four, not five. Social education studies have found that students are less likely to be interested in school when the goal is to achieve high standards - measuring them is almost a sure fire way to kill their intrinsic desire to figure something out or learn something new. They are also scared of failing so they don't challenge themselves; in addition, research supports the tragic outcome that children who are led to emphasize grades and high tests scores value reading less. And the biggest problem with our testing culture: "Paradoxically, (these) students who have put success out of their minds are likely to be successful. They process information more deeply, review things they didn't understand the first time, make connections between what they're doing now and what they learned earlier, and use more strategies to make sense of ideas they are encountering. All of this has been demonstrated empirically." Yet, we test.

Here's the rub. The fix isn't easy, in fact, it's nearly impossible. We, as a culture, are entrenched in the idea that the expert at the front of the class should do all the talking, thinking and delivery of information - even when studies show that children/students who talk, collaborate and are engaged in learning retain more information long term. We are convinced the product is more important than the process and so we rank. Everything. Students, schools, districts, states, universities. We can't see the forest beyond the trees.

The progressive style of education is broader. It allows for a democratic process and children aren't see as just future adults. The process is harder. The students go over less content (especially in the earlier years) but they thoroughly go through what they are studying. Teachers allow for open discussions and use every opportunity to incorporate real knowledge in the lessons - like a 2nd grade teacher that allowed the class to decorate their room. On day one, it was blank, and she told them to decorate it. They collaborated, discussed, disagreed, comprised and then set to the task they used fractions, area, perimeter, and much more to cut out paper for portions of the wall, etc etc. How can that NOT be learning? How can that be tested?

The author stresses the need to move away from testing because of the above mentioned negative outcomes related to boiling down our school system to a competitive, sort-for-all that leaves the poor students searching for some intrinsic reason to like school and to be engaged in real learning.

The writing style is easy to read. He does not come across as a hater of schools, but carefully outlines the reasons they must evolve from what they are to a less rigid, test oriented, laboratory of students.

I highly recommend.
Profile Image for Clint.
72 reviews1 follower
April 26, 2011
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, in depth problem-solving, whole language societies of pressure-less and freedom of thinking havens. Imagine the possibilities our students would have if they were exposed to such an environment.
Profile Image for Graham Slater.
10 reviews1 follower
August 22, 2010
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.
Profile Image for Ietrio.
6,568 reviews25 followers
November 2, 2022
First of all, the children don't ”deserve” anything. If there is something, there are quite a lot of basic things: food, shelter, love, protection. And here is the problem: schooling is done with the love of a gulag master, and with purposes that usually go right against the interest of the children. There they learn:
- how to work so they can pay the pensions of the lice before them
- how to die for a collective that raised to exploit them
- how to believe in whatever the fad of the day is
- how to blindly obey authority
- how to accept without questioning what the people in positions of authority say
- how to rat on each other
- how to work on a regular schedule, like Pavlovian dogs
- and many more howtos.

I don't know Kohn. I give him the benefit of the doubt. He is probably not an evil person. He is probably just another useful idiot parroting other people's ideas.
Profile Image for Bryan Gaskill.
4 reviews
March 25, 2018
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.
32 reviews
February 24, 2022
one of the best books ive ever read. It takes all of my feelings about school and not only puts them into words, but also completely explains them. I've started using his methods of teaching in my outdoor classroom, and not only feel better myself, but get loads of compliments from other educators. overall, if you're a teacher you need to read this!!!
Profile Image for Rebekka Casey.
21 reviews1 follower
August 4, 2022
I highly recommend for teachers and parents. I will say that if you've already read "Punished By Rewards", there is a lot of review of the concepts in that book that are present in this book. However I really do appreciate Mr. Kohn illustrating exactly how those concepts play into a school environment and how we as a community can change things.
Profile Image for Rebekah.
82 reviews5 followers
December 13, 2017
Was this book good? Sure. Impactful? Sure. Realistic in today’s educational climate? Not really.
Profile Image for Shruti.
116 reviews28 followers
June 23, 2018
An insightful read on all that's wrong with our educational system and a few good ideas on all that can be changed.
Profile Image for Ray.
172 reviews3 followers
March 19, 2020
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.
12 reviews
August 7, 2020
Kohn best work. each of his claim is backed up by numerous research projects which he is providing a link to in the appendix. Important book on the horrible and depressing "educational system".
39 reviews1 follower
April 5, 2015
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. Eliminate not only standardized tests, but all tests, and grading in general? Turn school into something that is a cross between children's museum and an apprenticeship? Nearly all work to be done in groups, nearly all instruction to be based on the Socratic method?

Sounds awesome to the the kid in me, but my adult brain is full of "buts"... Sure, the ideal education would be for all of us to have Merlyn turning us into hawks and ants and geese and sending us on adventures with Robin Wood (I've been re-reading The Sword In The Stone) but in the real world, efficiency, scalability, quantifiable metrics, these things have value. These are ways of getting a large number of people on roughly the same page about what needs to be done, and by whom, and when. I don't know that I believe Kohn's idealistic vision could be implemented as widely as he wants it to be without becoming, in some places, a parody of itself.

And yet... I agree with Kohn's starting premises, and mostly accept his arguments. How can I escape his conclusions?

Here are some of his premises, copied and pasted from the book:

"To take children seriously is to value them for who they are right now rather than seeing them as just adults-in-the-making."


"High achievement is a by-product. Now we're ready to ask: A by-product of what? And the answer is: Of interest [in the topic]."


And his (less radical) conclusions, with which I also agree:

"Virtually any topic in any discipline will benefit from raising questions about evidence (How do we know what we know?), point of view (Whose perspective does this represent?), connections (How is this related to that?), supposition (How might things have been otherwise?), and relevance (Why is this important?)"

"The sort of activities regarded as 'enrichments' (and typically reserved for the elite students) ought to constitute the bulk of the curriculum for everyone."

It is also absolutely true, I think, that much of what schools do is more about sorting kids than educating them.

I almost see this book more as an argument for home schooling than a prescription for reforming schools. I think what I'll mainly take away from it is a resolution not to pressure my kids too much about grades and test scores, a reconfirmed antipathy toward busy work (especially when assigned as homework), and a desire to read to my kids and talk about numbers and science and history and culture with them outside of school in a way that maybe shares with them some of the beauty I find in those subjects for their own sakes... Because I don't know that I believe, in my cynical adulthood, that this is really something schools can be expected to do.

I'll send my kids to school more so they can learn about their own present day culture, and how to interact with other people independent of me, than to become little scholars. I hope I can help them find a love of learning at home, which is where I think most people find it if they ever do. But if a school like Alfie Kohn imagines really existed, or if my kids were to get lucky enough to have a teacher who can make some small part of that magic happen in a real, tested and graded classroom, I agree with my teenage self that it would indeed be awesome.
211 reviews11 followers
December 12, 2016
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 purpose of education and why I consider it so important, which in turn caused me to realize that many of my assumptions about how a class should operate do not match up with my values. Throughout the process of reading this book, I continuously needed to adjust my plans for how I want my classes to look. I was startled but excited by the frequent moments of epiphany that Kohn provoked for me, and I found myself on several occasions dropping the book to develop lesson plans that fit the model of teaching that Kohn has helped me form for myself. I would highly recommend Kohn's books to anyone interested in education or frankly anyone who is/plans to become a parent.
Profile Image for Emily.
393 reviews3 followers
August 12, 2011
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 has more current books on the topic. Anyway, I'm not necessarily on the Alfie Kohn bandwagon, but he not only presents the argument against the way we're doing things, but gives some solid ideas of more effective practices. Don't think they'll be happening everywhere until the federal policies change, but we'll see.
Profile Image for Adam Ross.
750 reviews95 followers
May 31, 2016
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 traditional schooling fails to accomplish what it wants to accomplish and actually makes things worse for students. If I could require every person in America to carefully read ten books, Kohn's books would probably be at least five of them, this one included. His work has completely changed my understanding of human behavior and his writing is enviously level-headed and clear.
Profile Image for Kate.
49 reviews4 followers
September 22, 2009
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 kids the kind of experience he describes in this book at home either.

It wasn't until reading John Holt's book that I regained hope.
Profile Image for Nola Tillman.
634 reviews44 followers
September 12, 2008
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 to those exploring alternatives. I recommend any of Kohn's books for all parents (and they aren't too bad for folks who fund the educational system with, you know, tax dollars and should desire the best for their money).
Profile Image for Corrie Campbell.
69 reviews3 followers
March 13, 2013
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, believe it's important to educate and develop creative "life-long learners." An adherent to Kohn's rantings about the social psychology of intrinsic motivation, Daniel Pink offers a good synopsis of intrinsic motivation with his TED talk.
Profile Image for Laura.
73 reviews
July 6, 2012
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 to those who agree that the system is problematic, but don't believe there are better solutions.
Profile Image for Margie R-O.
45 reviews
September 12, 2012
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 books.
Profile Image for Wryly.
110 reviews13 followers
May 9, 2008
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.
Profile Image for Terry.
834 reviews35 followers
December 20, 2008
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.
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