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"Don't Blame the Kids:
The Trouble with America's Public Schools"
by Gene I. Maeroff

"Teach Your Own:
A Hopeful Task for Education"
by John Holt

Review by John Gabree

The trouble with America's public schools, according to New York Times education reporter Gene Maeroff, is that they are expected to solve too many social, political and economic problems that have little or nothing to do with educating youth. The notion that the schools could be used to ameliorate problems that the rest of the society wants to ignore dates back at least to 1917 when Congress passed the Smith-Hughes Act promoting vocational training in high schools.

Since then, schools have been viewed increasingly by the federal government as instruments of social change. According to Maeroff, the schools are supposed to absorb responsibilities traditionally vested in the home, church, hospitals, workplace and other institutions. Instead of creating jobs, federal dollars are poured into the schools for remedial education and food for children of the un- and under-employed. Instead of devising a method for integrating housing, Congress loaded the burden of desegregation on the schools. Do states and federal officials wish to promote inoculation against childhood diseases? Then bar uninoculated children from admission to kindergarten. Too many teenage pregnancies? Compulsory sex education. Church attendance declining? Make the kids pray. And so on.

The cost of all this social engineering is phenomenal, not just in the money and time it costs, but in the resources it draws away from teaching and learning. In one district in Colorado, for example, school secretaries and volunteers spent 4,597 hours making sure that the immunization records of pupils were up to date. The losers are the kids, for a growing number of whom school is just a boring prelude to a lifetime of boring labor.

Maeroff debunks the idea that kids don't want to learn. He argues that the buck is being passed by legislators and judges who make unrealistic demands on the schools, be education professionals who put their needs ahead of their responsibilities, and by short-sighted taxpayers and apathetic parents. He foresees a decade in which the schools, hard-pressed by Reaganomics and declining local tax revenues, " will have the awesome responsibility of upholding standards in a society in which the schools may be among the few concerned with quality."

John Holt is one who does think education is worth the bother, though his research for books like "How Children Learn" and "How Children Fail" has led him to reject most of the institutional trappings that encumber formal education. Instead, he has become a leading advocate of home schooling. Even parents who are not ready to take their children out of school will find useful advice for encouraging their children's natural inclination to learn. Parents who are serious about home schooling will find practical information, including legal strategies for keeping the educational police at bay. (1982)

Buy Don't Blame the Kids: The Trouble with America's Public Schools by Gene I. Maeroff
Teach Your Own: A Hopeful Task for Education by John Holt



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