The Schools Our Children Deserve

Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards”

(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999)

The Schools our Children Deserve - Alfie Kohn

Are our schools in trouble because they have lowered their standards and strayed too far from the basics? Just the opposite: if American students are getting less than they deserve, it’s due to simplistic demands to “raise the bar” and an aggressive nostalgia for traditional teaching.

Alfie Kohn, the author of critically acclaimed works on such subjects as competition and rewards, now turns the conventional wisdom about education on its head. In this landmark book, he shows how the “back-to-basics” philosophy of teaching treats children as passive receptacles into which forgettable facts are poured. Likewise, shrill calls for Tougher Standards are responsible for squeezing the intellectual life out of classrooms. Such political slogans reflect a lack of understanding about how and why kids learn, and they force teachers to spend time preparing students for standardized tests instead of helping them to become critical, creative thinkers.

Kohn offers an ambitious yet practical vision of what our children’s classrooms could be like. Drawing on a remarkable body of research, he helps parents and other ex-students understand the need to move beyond a “bunch o’ facts” model of teaching. Drawing on stories from real classrooms, he shows how this can be done. Along the way, Kohn offers surprising truths about the Whole Language versus phonics controversy, why a straight-A report card may not be good news, and how we can best gauge the progress of schools and students.

The Schools Our Children Deserve offers a fresh perspective on today’s headlines about education – and on what our children will be asked to do in class tomorrow morning. It offers a persuasive invitation to rethink our most basic assumptions about schooling.

Table of Contents

1 Forward . . . into the Past
PART ONE –  Tougher Standards Versus Better Education
2 Getting Motivation Wrong:  The Costs of Overemphasizing Achievement
3 Getting Teaching and Learning Wrong:  Traditional Education and Its Victims
4 Getting Evaluation Wrong:  The Case Against Standardized Testing
5 Getting School Reform Wrong:   The Arrogance of Top-Down Coercion
6 Getting Improvement Wrong:  Confusing Harder with Better
PART TWO –  For the Love of Learning
7 Starting from Scratch
8 Education at Its Best
9 Getting the 3 R’s Right
10 The Way Out
Appendix A:  The Hard Evidence
Appendix B:  What to Look for in a Classroom


Click here for an excerpt about about the limits of fact- and skill-oriented instruction.
Click here for an excerpt about teaching math.
Click here for an excerpt about teaching reading.
Click here for an excerpt about research on early-childhood education.

What people are saying

“A forceful and lively writer [who] makes a very persuasive case. . . He forces his readers to ask what our children are doing in school and what skills they really need to succeed in life. If you’re a parent or concerned citizen, this book ought to be on your list.”

–Washington Times

“Calmly, clearly, with humor and zest, Kohn has assembled the available evidence…in his lively book. . . . You owe it to yourself (and your children) to read The Schools Our Children Deserve.”

— Toronto Star

“Kohn is without question one of the most cogent critics of education today, and every sentence of his witty, sparkling writing contains a fact or food for thought.”

— Austin Chronicle

“Parents as well as educators should read this remarkable book and rethink our most basic assumptions about the nature of learning and the possibilities of education in the 21st century.”

— Library Journal

“[Kohn’s] timely new book…will warm the hearts of those left cold by the rush ‘back to basics’….His passion for creativity is inspiring – and suggests that old ways aren’t the only paths to top-flight results.”

— Christian Science Monitor

“A remarkable book that should become a classic in the field.”

— Jonathan Kozol

Where to buy it