SCHOOL: The Story of American Public Education

Meryl Streep, Foreword by, Sarah Mondale, Editor, Sarah Patton, Editor with Carl Kaestle, Diane Ravitch, James Anderson and Larry Cuban; foreword by M Beacon $35 (208p) ISBN 978-0-8070-4220-5

Chronologically arranged in four sections (1770–1890, 1900–1950, 1950–1980, 1980–2000), this anthology covers much ground (charter, common, frontier and dame schools) at a brisk, engaging pace. These five eminent scholars catalogue the experiences of African-Americans, Catholics, Native Americans, Mexican-Americans, people with disabilities and girls in an educational system originally designed for Protestant white boys. Tyack and company nimbly chart changing educational philosophies (Horace Mann, John Dewey, the Gary Plan, Archbishop John Hughes) and public debates, such as those aroused by the introduction of IQ tests in the 1920s, the 1957 launching of Sputnik (prompting fear that Soviet education outshone U.S. education) and the 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk, an assessment of the state of public education by "a presidential commission of corporate and public leaders and educators." And there are surprises—"black literacy soared in the decades after the Civil War, from 5 percent to 70 percent"; "New York's English-only curriculum was radical" in the 1910s; in the 1930s two-thirds of Los Angeles's Mexican-American students were classified as "slow learners... even mentally retarded" after the introduction of IQ tests; Lyndon Johnson was a schoolteacher; and in 1970 women received "less than 1 percent of all medical and legal degrees." This exemplary, thoroughly readable account of a "complex and controversial and open-ended" subject is enhanced by 125-plus photos and illustrations. (Sept. 12)

Forecast:This companion to the PBS documentary series will attract a significant readership. Though balanced, it will stir controversy at a time when reform leans toward business models and Horace Mann's belief "that all citizens" are responsible for the education of all children is being challenged.

Reviewed on: 08/27/2001
Release date: 09/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
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