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Mis-Education in Schools: Beyond the Slogans and Double-Talk

reviewed by Robert L. Fried - May 22, 2007

coverTitle: Mis-Education in Schools: Beyond the Slogans and Double-Talk
Author(s): Howard Good
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham
ISBN: 1578865352 , Pages: 104, Year: 2007
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I wish I could like this book more than I do. I probably agree with many, if not most, of Howard Good’s reactions to the public education disaster he sees around him, affecting his children, clouding his memories of six years of service on his local school board. Indeed, Good has written considerably on the topic of education policy and administration, with several publications stemming from his experience as a former school board member in his home community of Highland, New York. But this particular book comes across to me as shallow, unfocused and too often unable to lift its discussion of education “beyond the slogans and the double-talk” (to quote its sub-title).

Mis-Education in Schools is an easy read. There is lots within its five chapters to nod one’s head in agreement to: attacks on arbitrary and officious school administrators, sadness at the effect of ungenerous and uninspired teachers on young intellects, hypocrisy in the locker rooms as coaches demand pledges of abstinence from drinking (knowing such pledges will likely be violated), dearth of civic education for children who will inherit our vulnerable democracy, lack of public respect and financial and moral support for new teachers. In his first chapter, using his daughter’s experience with high school math, Good lambastes the arbitrariness of how students are placed into classes and how maddening it can be for a parent to advocate for a child who’s failing through no fault of her own. The third chapter (I go into more depth on Chapter Two, below) includes lots of pithy quotes, from Aristotle to Adolf Hitler, to make the well-worn argument that we fail to help young people prepare themselves to enhance, or at least maintain, our democratic way of government. Chapter Four bewails the poor level of induction for new teachers, leading so many of them to leave the profession before they’ve had a chance to master the art. And the final chapter takes aim at the species called “School Board members,” whom Mark Twain castigated in his oft-cited quip, “God made the Idiot for practice, and then He made the School Board.”

But instead of pointing us toward solutions, Good offers us snippets, cheap-shot quotes, and outrageous examples where a deeper and more thoughtful discussion would better serve his children and ours. We see him fulminating over the indignities foisted upon his daughter, Darla, a spunky high school kid who, despite all, wants to become a teacher. But we don’t get to penetrate the surface-level diagnosis. We are treated to death-by-anecdote, where instead we ought to get a nuanced discussion of why it is that so many teachers and so many more kids are thinking and performing so far below their intellectual potential and their emotional intelligence.

A case in point is his second chapter, “A Snitch in Time.” There is a serious case to be made that competitive sports exerts undue influence on high school priorities. Good reminds us that “countless communities around the country treat high school sports as sacred,” and makes the claim that “Sports are supposed to teach self-sacrifice, discipline, fair play, and respect for authority. Through sports, kids are supposed to learn to get their kicks on the field or in the gym and not with drugs and alcohol. . . . There’s only one thing wrong with this picture of sports as the salvation of American youth—it isn’t true.” He cites studies that warn of a “moral callousness” that increases the longer youth are involved in competitive sports.

Here is where I wanted a well-constructed debate between those who believe that sports offers to many young people a way of building their self-confidence and teamwork abilities, and those who fear that equating success in sports with success in academics (as so many students and parents do) leads many of our young people to sabotage future achievement in the pursuit of a temporary high from “that championship season.” But Good fritters away this complex issue in a bevy of anecdotes about sports stars behaving badly and a horrific incident of sexual assault at a Pennsylvania football camp. His refusal to keep his discussion within the bounds of reasoned debate makes this reader cry “foul.” Nor are we served by the first ten pages of the chapter that amount to a caterwaul over school officials who try to force student athletes to “snitch” on teammates who’ve been drinking at a party.

Although his slim book is replete with quotations and has plenty of citations from worthy critics like Nel Noddings and Ted Sizer, one wishes that Professor Good would read a bit more widely in his field of choice. John Dewey would be a good place to start, but so would the works of John Goodlad, Seymour Sarason, George Wood, Joe McDonald, Deborah Meier, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Alfie Kohn, all of them writers who can tell good stories but who search in earnest for a deeper understanding of how our education systems undermine human potential, and how a democracy needs an educated public to sustain it. That we need this deeper understanding on the part of the public and the policy-makers is all too apparent from the current debacle known as No Child Left Behind—there is enough mis-education in our times to warrant a dozen such books.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 22, 2007
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14495, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 6:29:37 AM

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About the Author
  • Robert Fried
    Northeastern University
    E-mail Author
    ROBERT L. FRIED is Associate Professor of Education at Northeastern University (on leave), and Executive Director of the Upper Valley Teacher Institute, in Lebanon, NH, which trains mid-career adults for careers in teaching. Dr. Fried’s published books are: The Passionate Teacher: A Practical Guide (2001, Beacon Press); The Passionate Learner: How Teachers and Parents Can Help Children Reclaim the Joy of Discovery (2002, Beacon Press); The Skeptical Visionary: A Seymour Sarason Education Reader (2002, Temple University Press); and The Game of School: Why We All Play It, How It Hurts Kids, and What it Will Take to Change It (2005, Jossey-Bass/Wiley).
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