On the Death of Childhood and the Destruction of Public Schools: The Folly of Today's Education Policies and Practices
reviewed by Karen Campbell - 2004
Title: On the Death of Childhood and the Destruction of Public Schools: The Folly of Today's Education Policies and Practices
Author(s): Gerald W. Bracey
Publisher: Heinemann, Portsmouth, NH
ISBN: 0325006024, Pages: 196, Year: 2003
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Johnny can’t read! SAT scores of American students are declining! American students can’t compete with Japanese whiz kids! These are just a few of the educational myths that Gerald R. Bracey attacks in On Death and the Destruction of Public Schools. With titles like “A Surefire Way to Destroy America – Test Every Kid Every Year,” “School Should Not Prepare Students for the World of Work” and “Playing It Crooked – Media and Political Distortion About the Condition of American Public Schools,” this series of essays challenges educational policies and practices strongly present throughout America in the 20th century and now into the 21st century, and seeks to expose political and economic fallacies directed toward the public education system.
Throughout, A Nation at Risk becomes the exemplar of quasi-research reports commissioned to secure the position of the public education system as
“Getting Dumber in School?” published in the March 2001 issue of Principal Leadership contends that in an international study of reading skills “US students were outscored only by
Still, the questions remain: Why would politicians bash public education? Wouldn’t they have more to gain if they could point to an American public education system that is not failing? Wouldn’t politicians benefit from a wise investment of taxpayer funds to produce literate citizens able to compete with Japanese whiz kids? Here, perhaps, Bracey’s hidden agenda comes to light.
With constant references to educational issues in the forefront of the administrations of Ex-Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush and those issues now present during the administration of President George W. Bush, Bracey succeeds in placing Republican politicians as the chief architects of efforts to destroy the American public educational system. Bracey credits the Reagan administration’s educational agenda of support for tuition vouchers as an effort to advance the privatization of public schools. In support of privatization it is during Reagan’s tenure that Secretary of Education Terrel Bell’s National Commission on Excellence in Education publishes “A Nation at Risk.” Privatization gains further momentum in 1991 under the presidency of George Herbert Walker Bush when Chris Whittle, CEO of Edison Schools, Inc. goes public with his plans for “a national system of private schools” (p. 7). Whittles plan loses steam when Bill Clinton upsets George Herbert Walker Bush and becomes the 42nd President of the
Clearly, the American public school system, with all its successes and failures, existed prior to the Republican administration of Ronald Reagan; yet, after reading this book, I am left wondering if Reagan and those Republicans after him are the true villains in the movement to bash and ultimately dismantle the public school system. Much of Bracey’s diatribes are pointed at what Republican politicians failed to do or failed not to do. Why is there no mention of how pubic schools fared under the presidencies of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton? Yes, the book is subtitled The Folly of Today’s Education Policies and Practice, but if the author retreats into the past to explore the impact of Reagan’s educational agenda, surely a more comprehensive look at the impact of past educational agendas on today’s public schools would include President Johnson’s War on Poverty. Here, I am afraid Bracey is guilty of those same practices he questions in others: using “slanted, spun and distorted statistics.”
As an advocate of public education, I appreciate Bracey’s attempts to expose those myths attacking one of the institutions that makes
It may help you to know that I am not a Republican. I am a Democrat. Although Bracey points the finger at Republicans and their questionable educational agendas, I still question his self-description as “public schools’ best defender.” Pointing fingers at politicians is not defending schools. Blaming others will not help those students and teachers who are succeeding and failing in today’s public schools. At this point in the game,