Speaking of Fourth Grade: What Listening to Kids Tells Us About School in America

Inda Schaenen. New Press, $25.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-59558-906-4
Journalist-turned-educator Schaenen wades into the education reform debate by interviewing 166 demographically diverse fourth-graders in Missouri, identifying her subjects by ethnicity, school, and income (for example, Azra, Bosnian American, public school, low income). Schaenen structures her book around such questions as “Why Do Kids Go to School?” and “What Makes a Good Teacher”? Developmentally on the cusp between literal and abstract thinking, fourth graders assume an important role within the politics of education. Through high-stakes testing—which sorts kids as if they are “footwear,” according to the author—fourth graders generate the data that informs education policy. While the author’s methodology provides an honest attempt to cut through the adult noise about educational policy, her findings read more like data collected for a research project than a synthesized, coherent argument, and will likely appeal more to policymakers than parents or teachers. Her narrative is weakened by her geographic limitations, though her familiarity with the cultural and socioeconomic landscape of Missouri make for an immersive experience in “the middle of the middle of the United States.” By opening up the discussion to fourth graders themselves, Schaenen offers an outlet for voices often overlooked in the debate about education in America. (July)
Reviewed on: 04/28/2014
Release date: 07/01/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
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