I read, wrote and published this book review on Amazon as a customer review in November 2002 when my oldest was just four years old. I revised the review today only to add an update to reflect what I've learned since 2002 and to include new sources of information. In the update at the end of the review you will see that I felt I was a bit harsh on the book's review.
Title: The Educated Child: A Parent's Guide from Preschool through Eighth Grade
Authors: William J. Bennett, Chester E. Finn, Jr., John T. E. Cribb, Jr.
Publication: The Free Press a division of Simon & Schuster, 1999
Formats: hardcover and softcover book
Book review by ChristineMM:
Please see update at end written six years after I published this first review.
Review published November 1, 2002:
I found this book frustrating. I read it cover to cover and found this depressing rather than empowering. If you are not aware of the problems of public schools then this is a good book to read to learn of the issues. I wish all parents who utilize the public school system were concerned enough about their children's education to read a book about the subject.
This book is intended to fill parents in on what the authors think kids today should be learning in public school. Then there is a comparison and complaint as to what is really going on. There is not much in the current state of the American public education system these authors like. Poor SAT scores and other standardized tests are cited as proof of a failing system. There is no negative discussion of the pitfalls and problems with standardized tests despite there being lots of information on this subject in other places-standardized tests are held in high esteem by these authors as proof that learning has taken place.
This book fully outlines all the things the authors feel are problems in the schools, from what they call "bad teachers" to what make up "bad schools" and their opinions about bad methods of teaching and curriculum. The author's conservative views and anti-multiculturalism views are very clear. The authors want to go back to basics and feel that rote memorization and drill are not only vital to a good education but character building. One thing that I am still wondering after reading this book is, back in "the good old days" of learning the basics by rote memorization and drill, do we have any statistics such as test scores or graduation rates to prove those methods actually work? I believe the answer is that standardized tests were not being done `back then' and that we know graduation rates from high school were very low although that is never discussed in this book. They don't compare apples to apples here in that regard. They are quick to cite research where it fits their agenda, such as trying to prove "the new math" has resulted in lower math standardized test scores. They never translate for us parents what "the new math" is or when it came into existence. They reference bad curriculum such as `discovery' methods of teaching math and science but don't get into enough detail so we can form our own opinions. This is very much about the author's opinions and directly trying to impose their views on the parent. It is not about offering options or remaining neutral with regard to opinion and letting the reader come to their own conclusions.
The authors prod and prod the parents to monitor what is going on in the schools, to go to the classrooms to see what is going on. They urge parents to "get involved". They say parents should investigate teachers and make sure their child gets in the classroom of the "good teachers". When they are done saying parents should harangue the administrators, later contradict themselves and say to not prod the administrators too much to change classes, etc. and to not cause the administrators too much trouble. They also acknowledge that if all the kids were with the "good" teachers no one would be with the "bad" teachers. How about that for depressing? Also they take teachers out of some of the blame game when they say that poor discipline due to lack of good parenting is the cause of some of the problems in school. As you may have guessed this book does a lot of finger pointing and plays the blame game.
Something else the authors seem to neglect mentioning is that what goes on in one class vs. another class in same grade of same school can be very different. Right now I know of classes where one teacher is using drill and another is using puppets and songs to teach the letters of the alphabet, both Kindergarten classes in the same school. How can we label what is a "bad school" when there is so much inconsistency? Furthermore, they like to label "bad school"---tell me this, if the grade is "bad" in reading but "good" in math, does that make a good school or a bad school? If one grade is "good" but another "bad" how do we label that school?
The authors give a skimming of what should be covered in each grade. This is not original material, it is acknowledged as being from the books of E.D. Hirsh, the core curriculum books "What Your X Grader Should Know". They say over and over to go to those references for more detailed and complete outlines of what each child should learn in each grade. Then what bothers me is they say there is a 3-year leeway there, that what is recommended for 3rd grade may be covered in 2nd, 3rd, or 4th. How a parent to keep up with every grade that Hirsh is recommends with this 3-year leeway? I also have a personal problem of so much labeling of opinion of what every person should know. There is no room left for the child to spend more time in their own studies. For example they feel all 1st grades should know Aesop's Fables but what about if the child is a dinosaur buff and is read adult level books on dinosaurs? The authors complain of a lack of teaching history in chronological order and ask the parents to somehow add in this curriculum at home. Seems like overkill to me, to do an entire chronological history at home plus do different segments of history and social studies at school.
And if the school is a "bad school" they say to either use their "free choice" to change schools. There is no voucher system in America! There is no free choice to select the public school of choice! They recommend private schools but caution that not all of them are good plus they seem not to realize that many people can't afford private schools. They suggest moving as an option to get into a different public school.
UPDATE SIX YEARS LATER, 2008: I wrote the above review in 2002 when my oldest child was four. I did go on to homeschool both of my children and now that oldest child of mine is nearly 11 years old and about to enter sixth grade in our homeschool.
Overall I still agree with my review although more has come out in the media to fill the gaps that I mentioned in the above review. I now know more about what is really being taught in public schools and thanks to things like (the popular website that shows free videos) demonstrating the 'new math' or the 'new new math'. The documentary by John Stossel on 20/20 called 'Stupid in America' that first aired in January 2006 gave more statistics and more up to date information to prove some of what these authors were saying back when this book was published in 1999. (That video usually can be found on that popular website that shows free videos.)
I also know what the lifestyle of many schooled children is like now, usually their schedule is crammed and often over-scheduled with many 'enriching' after-school activities. Despite the 'after schooling' that some parents COULD do with schooled children to supplement their academics with home instruction (which the authors of "The Educated Child" reccommend) I will say it would be hard to 'fit it all in' especially if the family has two parents working full time day jobs. Even if a parent has the time to 'after school' the child, the family who tries to 'after school' their children will have to choose between that 'after schooling' and sports, choir and Scouts or any number of other 'after school activities' that fill today's children's schedules. There is only so much time in the day to supplement academics at home in addition to juggling the school schedule and the school's homework. "After schooling" (and homeschooling) especially with a chronological study of history (a better method of studying history that was mentioned in "The Educated Child") is also covered in the book "The Well-Trained Mind" by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer if you are seeking that information.
A brand new book published in June 2008 called "From Crayons to Condoms" also tells many stories about what exactly is going on in classrooms today that backs up some of what the authors of "The Educated Child" eluded to back in 1999 when the book was published. Issues such as self-esteem promotion, the new new math and issues with multi-culturalism are touched upon in detail.
Frankly in the end I think if a parent feels very strongly about what is going on in public schools it can be a full time job to monitor it, try to make changes and to also 'after school' them with home instruction in supplemental academics. Since we still don't have a true voucher system in this country it would be simpler to send the child to a private school with more rigorous academics or to homeschool your child.
The longer I homeschool the more and more I see parents withdrawing their children from school for a myriad of reasons that they are unhappy with public schooling in America. Those families that start homeschooling and are now living a more joyful life which also is more academic enriching and tailored to the unique child. Despite the typical fears about homeschooling, often what happens is that both parent and child feel a weight was lifted from their shoulders when getting out of the school system and embarking on the homeschooling journey.
Note also that the authors came across anti-homeschooling in "The Educated Child" yet later, William Bennett entered into an arrangement with K-12, a charter school which also marketed to homeschoolers. I believe after this book was published, William Bennett became more supportive of homeschooling.
I'm feeling less critical about "The Educated Child" today and if it were possible I'd up the rating to 3 or if possible a 3.5 or 4 but Amazon's system won't let me change my star rating of the book.
My blog post dated 1/17/06: My Thoughts on 20/20 Show “Stupid in America”
My blog post dated 7/06/08: My thoughts on the book "From Crayons to Condoms: The Ugly Truth About America's Public Schools"
ABC's webpage for "Stupid in America"
John Stossel has other essays on public schooling issues, check his webpage's index of essays for more education topics.
Core Knowledge website
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