Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms

Diane Ravitch, Author Simon & Schuster $30 (560p) ISBN 978-0-684-84417-6
HPlainly written and abundantly documented, this opinionated history of the ""permanent debate"" about school standards, curricula and methods should initiate new discussions about the purpose of American schools. Taking a firm stance in favor of liberal education, Ravitch argues that the ascent of so-called progressive education has undermined the intellectual development of students and the democratic principles of American society. For example, she writes that by the end of WW II, progressives had reserved academic education for an elite of college-bound students while they directed other children (mainly the poor, immigrants and racial minorities) toward undemanding vocational and general programs. In doing so, she argues, progressives ""institutionalized white supremacy"" and set a precedent for the present-day tracking of African-American students into vocational subjects. Ravitch depicts the century as falling into two halves, divided by the 1950s, when a sudden and concerted backlash against progressive ideas was sparked by teachers' and parents' resistance to education ""experts,"" and she draws clear parallels between early-century ideas and contemporary trends. Along the way, she persuasively advocates a return to the ""fundamental mission of teaching and learning"" as the cure for the anti-intellectualism that ails American schools. Like The Closing of the American Mind, this is a personal crusade, but unlike Allan Bloom, Ravitch is anchored in a dispassionate history of the ways education has failed this country's children. Agent, Lyn Chu of Writers Representatives. Author tour. (Aug.) FYI: Ravitch served as assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education from 1991 to 1993.
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
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