What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated?

And More Essays on Standards, Grading, and Other Follies

(Boston: Beacon Press, 2004)

What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated - Alfie Kohn

Few writers ask us to question our fundamental assumptions about education as provocatively as Alfie Kohn. In this new collection of essays, Kohn takes on some of the most important topics in education of recent years. His central focus is on the real goals of schooling — a topic, he argues, that we systematically ignore while lavishing attention on misguided models of learning and motivation.

From the title essay’s challenge to conventional definitions of a good education to essays on testing and grading that tally the severe costs of overemphasizing a narrow conception of achievement, Kohn boldly builds on his earlier work and writes for a wide audience. He explores topics ranging from the destructiveness of praise to the inadequacy of American high schools, shows how traditional educational practices can spoil the value of newer and better approaches, and offers a provocative reflection on what 9/11 and its aftermath can mean for schools.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Grappling with Goals
One: The Purposes of Schooling
1 What Does It Mean to Be Well Educated?
2 Turning Learning into a Business
3 The Costs of Overemphasizing Achievement
Two: Standards and Testing
4 Confusing Harder with Better
5 Beware of the Standards, Not Just the Tests
6 Standardized Testing and Its Victims
7 Sacrificing Learning for Higher Scores
8 Two Cheers for an End to the SAT
Three: Grading and Evaluating
9 From Degrading to De-Grading
10 The Dangerous Myth of Grade Inflation
11 Five Reasons to Stop Saying “Good Job!”
Four: Moral, Social, and Psychological Questions
12 Constant Frustration and Occasional Violence: The Legacy of American High Schools
13 September 11
14 A Fresh Look at Abraham Maslow
Five: School Reform and the Study of Education
15 Almost There, But Not Quite
16 Education’s Rotten Apples
17 The Folly of Merit Pay
18 Professors Who Profess

What people are saying

“This collection of essays, written from 1999 to 2003, proves the author is one of America’s most astute critics of current educational policies…. Kohn is unapologetic and articulate about the advantages of a progressive approach to education that values students’ interests, focuses on understanding (rather than the acquisition of isolated facts) and assesses student work authentically (rather than by single, standardized measures). True to his educational philosophy, he asks readers to consider big questions, such as: What’s important to know? What are the qualities of a good school? And perhaps most vital, Who gets to decide and who benefits?”

–Publishers Weekly

“What Does It Mean to Be Well Educated? is an informative, enjoyable, thought-provoking volume. Kohn’s style is engaging and his ideas have substance. . . . This is a book that educates and excites a desire for more education.”

–Educational Forum

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