What to Look for in a Classroom

… and Other Essays

(San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998)

What To Look For In A Classroom - Alfie Kohn

Through his writings and speeches, Alfie Kohn has been stirring up controversy for years, demonstrating how the conventional wisdom about education often isn’t supported by the available research, and illuminating the gaps between our long-term goals for students and what actually goes on in schools. Now, What to Look for in a Classroom brings together his most popular articles from Educational Leadership, Phi Delta Kappan, and Education Week – and also from the Atlantic Monthly, the Boston Globe, and other publications.

From self-esteem to school uniforms, from grade inflation to character education, Kohn raises a series of provocative questions about the status quo in this collection of incisive essays. He challenges us to reconsider some of our most basic assumptions about children and education. Can good values really be “instilled” in students? What, if anything, lies behind the label of attention-deficit disorder? Are there good data to support our skepticism about watching TV? Might such allegedly enlightened practices as “authentic assessment,” “logical consequences,” and “Total Quality education” turn out to be detrimental? Whether he is explaining why cooperative learning can be so threatening or why detracking is so fiercely opposed, Kohn offers a fresh, informed, and frequently disconcerting perspective on the major issues in education.

In the end, his critical examination of current practice is complemented by a vision of what schooling ought to be. Kohn argues for giving children more opportunity to participate in their own schooling, for transforming classrooms into caring communities, and for providing the kind of education that taps and nourishes children’s curiosity. Through all these essays, Kohn calls us back to our own ideals, showing us how we can be more effective at helping students to become good learners and good people.

Table of Contents

Click here to read the introduction.
PART ONE – Classroom Mismanagement
1 The Limits of Teaching Skills
2 The Trouble with School Uniforms
3 Beyond Discipline
4 How Not to Teach Values: A Critical Look at Character Education
PART TWO – American Ideology Goes to School
5 Resistance to Cooperative Learning: Making Sense of Its Deletion and Dilution
6 “A Lot of Fat Kids Who Don’t Like to Read”: The Effects of Pizza Hut’s Book It! Program and Other Reading Incentives
7 Grading: The Issue Is Not How But Why
8 Grade Inflation and Other Red Herrings
9 Only for My Kid: How Privileged Parents Undermine School Reform
PART THREE – Unquestioned Assumptions About Children
10 Suffer the Restless Children: Unsettling Questions About the ADHD Label
11 The Truth About Self-Esteem
12 Television and Children: ReViewing the Evidence
PART FOUR – Business as Usual
13 The Five-Hundred-Pound Gorilla
14 The False Premises of School Choice Plans
15 Students Don’t “Work” – They Learn
16 The Littlest Customers:  TQM Goes to School
PART FIVE – Lessons Learned
17 Caring Kids:  The Role of the Schools
18 Choices for Children:  Why and How to Let Students Decide
19 What to Look for in a Classroom

What people are saying

“Renowned educator Kohn delivers an important, comprehensive collection of essays. . . . [His] message, if heeded, could inspire a productive revolution in America’s fatigued regime of public education.”

— Publishers Weekly  [starred review]

 “Of the dozens of ‘experts’ on what’s wrong (and right) in U.S. schools, only a handful are truly worth reading; Kohn has long been one of the soundest.  His willingness not simply to challenge conventional answers but also examine whether we’re asking the right questions gives his work a genuinely eye-opening quality. . . Most readers will respond to at least one of Kohn’s essays with a surprised ‘Gee, I never thought of it that way.’”

— Booklist

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