Mind-opening writing on what kids need from school, from one of education’s most outspoken voices
Almost no writer on schools asks us to question our fundamental assumptions about education and motivation as boldly as Alfie Kohn. The Washington Post says that “teachers and parents who encounter Kohn and his thoughts come away transfixed, ready to change their schools.” And Time magazine has called him “perhaps the country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades [and] test scores.”
Here is challenging and entertaining writing on where we should go in American education, in Alfie Kohn’s unmistakable voice. He argues in the title essay with those who think that high standards mean joylessness in the classroom. He reflects thoughtfully on the question “Why Self-Discipline Is Overrated.” And in an essay for the New York Times, which generated enormous response, he warns against the dangers of both punishing and praising children for what they do instead of parenting “unconditionally.”
Whether he’s talking about school policy or the psychology of motivation, Kohn gives us wonderfully provocative—and utterly serious—food for thought. This new book will be greeted with enthusiasm by his many readers, and by teachers and parents seeking a refreshing perspective on today’s debates about kids and schools.
Educator Kohn (Punished by Rewards) presents 19 essays (previously published in such newspapers and journals as the New York Times and Education Week) in this spirited and incisive probe of education today. Though Kohn can be witty and wry, his overarching message is quite sobering: he's convinced that "historians will look back at our era of ever-higher standards and increasingly standardized instruction as a dark period in American education." Kohn regards the one-size-fits-all approach as a serious mistake: instead of educating the "whole child" in an individualized manner that nourishes a love of learning, the trend is to produce students who can memorize facts that are soon forgotten. Along with standardized tests, Kohn debunks homework and grades, and in a piece entitled "How to Create Nonreaders" reveals that a sure way to destroy children's love of reading and writing is to require written reports, offer incentives, quantify assignments or focus on skills all common practices in our classrooms. True "progressive education" is very hard to find, the author claims, which is one reason it can't be blamed for the failings of our educational system. With plenty of data to back up his contrarian views, Kohn asks readers to take a hard look at where America's classrooms are heading and do whatever is necessary to turn schools from "test prep centers" into joyful environments where kids learn to think for themselves.