Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “What Does It Mean to Be Well Educated?: And More Essays on Standards, Grading, and Other Follies” as Want to Read:
What Does It Mean to Be Well Educated?: And More Essays on Standards, Grading, and Other Follies
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

What Does It Mean to Be Well Educated?: And More Essays on Standards, Grading, and Other Follies

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  412 ratings  ·  54 reviews
Few writers ask us to question our fundamental assumptions about education as provocatively as Alfie Kohn. Time magazine has called him'perhaps the country's most outspoken critic of education's fixation on grades [and] test scores.' And the Washington Post says he is 'the most energetic and charismatic figure standing in the way of a major federal effort to make standardi ...more
Paperback, 212 pages
Published May 15th 2004 by Beacon Press (first published January 1st 2004)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about What Does It Mean to Be Well Educated?, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about What Does It Mean to Be Well Educated?

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.02  · 
Rating details
 ·  412 ratings  ·  54 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of What Does It Mean to Be Well Educated?: And More Essays on Standards, Grading, and Other Follies
Will Ejzak
Dec 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
I love Alfie Kohn. He has a matter-of-fact way of saying very obvious things about the education system that only seem radical because high school is so idiotic and inhumane: grading does way more harm than good, standardized tests benefit rich kids and corporations at the expense of everyone else, the structure of high school is completely antithetical to meaningful learning, and so on.

I've read a bunch by Kohn in the past, and like a lot of people, I've found him extremely meaningful. This bo
Mr. B
Oct 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
NOBODY has influenced my teaching/pedagoy more than Mr. Kohn. In fact, I don't think I'd be nearly as effective a teacher if I hadn't read Kohn's work. He'll thoughtfully, yet relentlessly, critique public educational status quos. I was forced to rethink/revise/consider my ideas and practices about the following topics:
1. The purpose of school.
2. Homework
3. Classroom management
4. Rewards and Punishments..."dangling carrots"
Dec 21, 2010 rated it liked it
The man has a point, but he could be less irritating about making it...
Milo Douglas
May 23, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Educators, parents of students
Recommended to Milo by: Educational colleague
By the end of this book (a series of essays), I felt like Alfie Kohn truly challenges traditional notions of what it means to educate children and young adults. I wish this book (or one like it) had been required reading back when I was getting my teacher certification, not because Kohn has all the answers, but rather because he questions the status quo and suggests alternatives to the old chestnuts we've relied on for so long.

Kohn's strongest argument is that "traditional", reactionary and oft
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
A series of essays about all sorts of topics related to education. Some were pretty typical of progressive education debates (which are still incredibly important! just sometimes over-discussed), but I found some particularly worthwhile chapters that I had never considered — namely, a discussion on merit pay, an essay that called into question the entire point of education, a call to end praise, and a study of education in relation to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Jun 26, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: own-it
a bit redundant, but that's understandable given its format. i felt like it just scratched the surface of its subject matter, but that it was a good introduction. ...more
Feb 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: the establishment
This book hurts my insides.

I especially want to photocopy and highlight this section of page 58:

"Standardized tests tend to measure the temporary acqusition of facts and skills, including the skill of test-taking itself, more than genuine understanding. To that extent, the fact that such tests are more likely to be used and emphasized in schools with higher percentages of minority students (a fact that has been empirically emphasized) predictably results in poorer-quality teaching in such schoo
Ope Bukola
Aug 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Kohn challenges the status quo of current education reform movements, from standards and grading, to teacher merit pay. He does it all why making a plea for us to fundamentally question the why of education. What are the values we want to instill in students and why? What values do the current modes of teaching instill and what purpose do they serve. Even if some of his views or prescriptions are extreme or unlikely to be implemented, this is an important book for everyone interested in educatio ...more
Adria Tingey
Jun 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
This would get more stars if I had read the essays individually about a month apart instead of as a book, because of the repetition. However, the issues are very heavy and I spent at least as much time thinking about as I did reading this book-which means it was pretty darn good. Wish more people would think about stuff like this. Kohn is at least one of the most articulate critics of the status quo that I have read, so even if he gets a little soapy-boxy he's still basically right about almost ...more
Oct 25, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: educational
Interesting book which makes me consider underlying issues about how to teach the students of today. Along with the fact the standardized tests are made by the same people who publish our textbooks, this book also gives me reason to reconsider telling my students when they do a good job. This book really makes you think deeper than any book I have read to date regarding today's classroom. ...more
Nov 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
A book every person who sets public education policy should read, but probably won't as it challenges too many dearly held assumptions. ...more
Nov 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I want to buy a dozen copies of this book and just hand them out to people who blithely talk about how our schools are falling behind, teacher accountability, or any other such nonsense.
Nathan Albright
Feb 14, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: challenge-2020
The author is right that this book is about follies, but not necessarily in the way that he claims.   Just as everything in the contemporary world is the subject of massive fighting, so is education, and the author seeks to present the point of view of leftist activists while demonstrating his folly to everyone who hasn't shared the kool-aid he is continually sipping from while having written this book.  It would take at least a sizable pamphlet to discuss all of the massive flaws of logic and r ...more
Books By Hala
Aug 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
this was an interesting read. I advise parents and people in the education sector to read it. The main message here is defying standardised testing as the main method of assessing students. Grades are considered unreliable, thought to be a barrier to interactive learning, a blocker to smooth dynamics in the classroom amongst teachers and students, and a distortion to the curriculum. The author talks a lot about the American situation, but this time it seems to be relevant to Jordan and on a glob ...more
Flynn Magorian
Nov 22, 2020 rated it liked it
I think the name is misleading. What does it mean to be well educated? Is a huge, exciting, interesting question that deserves thoughtful, well researched experienced answers.
This book would be better titled “what are the three biggest barriers to a meaningful education? Grades, class rank and standardized tests.”
I appreciate the authors insights and experience and agree with many of his points. I would of loved it if a few of the essays in this book attempted to answer the title question. Maybe
Katie Rybakova
Feb 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Not my favorite text by Kohn. He is still a brilliant theorist and man, but I found that the essays were a bit outdated and repetitive. After reading the third essay about testing, I felt like I was reading the same argument over and over. He makes great claims, but unfortunately a lot of these claims are just simply unrealistic in regards to real change RIGHT NOW in education. We need not only theory but also a plan of action.
Michelle Cristiani
I didn't read this as closely as I should to post a full review, but the first essay - the 'title track' - is a very important read for our time. What does it mean to be educated, what is the purpose of education, and - perhaps most importantly - who gets to answer these questions? It is important for all educators to ponder this, discuss it, and act accordingly.

This series of essays is from 2004; so much has changed since then, but it's eerie how much is still as relevant today.
Sep 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
So I would give this book a 5 out of 5, this book is really helpful for people who need a little more input on education, that will definitely help you in the future for your life. I love how in the book the author really connects to the reader and actually like make this topic easier and less in your face from others informants, the message I received by this book is how it helps you from a young age to help you for a long term, that will really help you get and feel ready for college.
Alyssa Potasznik
Apr 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I don't agree with everything Kohn argues here (mainly because I feel like I need to research it more on my own first). However, I do believe this book should be required reading for every parent, educator, administrator, and politician seeking to improve public education. ...more
Abigail Munson
Mar 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I want Alfie Kohn to be my best friend.
Mar 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
"The average high school is terrific preparation for adult life - as long as that life is led in a totalitarian society." ...more
Shifting Phases
Jul 04, 2011 rated it liked it
Alfie Kohn lays out his basic philosophy. If you're tearing your hair out trying to explain why standardized testing is not going to single-handedly save the educational system or the economy, this might make you feel better. It also probably won't surprise you. Kohn introduces basic critiques of things he disagrees with (punitive standardized testing and the cash cow it represents), but offers no in-depth critique of things he agrees with (for that, go read David Labaree).

A few useful tidbits:

Nov 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This collection of essays challenged my preconceptions of learning, education policies, and standardized testing. As someone who thrived within a structured, heavily tested, and “reward / punishment” system, I would never had questioned them if I hadn’t been actively seeking out new perspectives on how to teach. It made me question if I enjoyed my classes because I was a “good test taker” or if I was actually enjoying the material. The essays on testing were fascinating, but my favorite studies ...more
Nola Tillman
Sep 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: educators, those with children,
Very few nonfiction books are "quick reads" for me, but this book certainly was. Although it is a collection of essays, it is very well grouped and has a wonderful flow to it. Kohn walks you through his viewpoint on education and school.

One thing I did grit my teeth at was the way he seemed to paint "Christian conservatives" with quite a large brush. They are in the group, he claims, who want our kids to learn to accept everything given to them. I don't think this is a fair point to give so broa
Jul 27, 2012 rated it liked it
I heartily agree with most of his arguments, but have no idea how he thinks a) it can be practical for any teacher (I used to be a teacher, so my teacher filter was on while reading) b) that his ideas can lead anywhere else but to homeschooling. He said in another one of his books he does not want to do away with the public school system, but overhaul it. Fat chance in this day in age! People and government as an overwhelming majority are too fixed on things that don't work and will not relent, ...more
Feb 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
A set of fiery sermons on some of the problems of our education system, this book addresses quite a few questions without ever answering them (this includes the title question). It is quite effective at raising some important questions, though. This being only my first experience with Kohn, I will say tentatively that he is essential for any educator to read, whether you agree with him or not. As an educator (and a parent), I can see quite clearly that the issues he brings up are absolutely rele ...more
Erin Dickey
Nov 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
On the one hand, I enjoyed reading this. Heck, I agree with 98% of this man's ideas, and he writes so eloquently that you're left thinking, I couldn't have said it better myself.

On the other hand, I felt a little down after j finished the essay collection. He wrote the essays in this book between 11 and 15 years ago, and things have gotten worse, if anything. We are ever more focused on standards and standardized testing, although one potential bright spot is the growing number of students, par
Emily Mellow
Sep 09, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: educators and parents of school-children
There were only a couple of essays here that I actually wanted to read. The rest would be more relevant to anyone who works in schools or actually plans to put their kids in school. Since we are avowed homeschoolers, it was mostly preaching to the choir for me. Still, there were a few essays that were very valuable. I am excited, for instance, about the demise of the SAT, and the very real possibility that my kids may never be required to take any standardized tests.
May 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Anyone who is interested in the current state of public education should read this book. Kohn touches on many important topics and provides evidence and examples for his assertions. This is the kind of book that will get you fired up to make some changes, even if only within your own school or even your own classroom. We will be discussing this book at a book chat at my school in a couple weeks, and I'm sure a dynamic discourse will ensue. ...more
Feb 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
How can educator not like Kohn? His liberating ideas on Education that reaches ALL students is wonderul. It allows the reader to think beyond the box of the American education system to what all that can be possible. Pretty high in the sky, yet it was wonderful to read something positive in the education world of today. (Especially when two of your children do not fit in the box of the educational model of today.)
« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul's School
  • Preschool in Three Cultures: Japan, China and the United States
  • How Santa Claus Came to Simpson's Bar
  • Kate's Choice
  • Christmas Every Day
  • This Will All Be Over Soon: A Memoir
  • Черная книга Арды
  • Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West
  • Citizen 13660
  • The Mindful Elite: Mobilizing from the Inside Out
  • The Rhubarb Connection and Other Revelations: The Everyday World of Metal Ions
  • The Last Emperox (The Interdependency, #3)
  • Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future
  • Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences
  • Introduction to Mathematical Thinking
  • Building Blocks of the Universe
  • The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Well
  • The Glass Bead Game
See similar books…
See top shelves…
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 outspok

Related Articles

"Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do." -Benjamin Spock Calling all parents who have ever found themselves wondering:...
35 likes · 10 comments