The Schools Our Children Deserve

Hey guys! Sam here!  I just finished this INCREDIBLE NON-FICTION book for my Education class and HAD TO WRITE A BOOK REVIEW so I thought, “Why not share it with our blog viewers!?”  So here it is!  Drop some comments if you like it! 



Book Review of The Schools our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards”

The book that I chose to read and do a book review on is titled The Schools our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards” by Alfie Kohn.  The book was copyrighted in 1999 and is a non-fiction book that generally talks about moving away from the tough standards and traditional teaching.  Kohn brings to attention that the standards in the educational system today are too harsh for children and may ultimately take the fun out of learning for children. I chose this book because I believe that we should be moving away from traditional classrooms and tough standards.  I believe have tough standards takes the fun out of learning and also makes students feel as though learning is too hard.

Kohn, a father of two who lives in Boston, has written twelve books with a thirteenth book being released in the spring of 2014.  His books have been translated into several languages including Polish, Chinese, Arabic, Bulgarian and Malaysian, just to name a few.  He has been “Profiled in the Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times” ( and he has appeared on the “Oprah” show twice thus far and has also appeared on the “Today” Show.  Among these appearances, he also delivers lectures at Universities to students, parents, school faculties, and corporations.  Alfie Kohn also “conducts workshops for teachers and administrators on various topics” (    Alfie Kohn’s philosophy of education is progressivism.  He states “First, to look at all this evidence together is to understand the absurdity of claims that progressivism runs rampant in our education system.  Second, many traditionalists insist that our schools are failing” (Kohn, 1999). 

Dan Willingham, author of Why Don’t Students Like School?  A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About how the Mind Works and What it Mean for Your Classroom, states that Kohn is “A leading voice in education for better than two decades…He is an influential go-to guy for education reporters seeking expert comments on everything from standardized testing policy to student motivation” (Willingham, 2009).  However, according to Dan Willingham, Kohn does omit certain subject matters.  He presents an example that Kohn used about homework.  Willingham states that Kohn gives data showing that academic achievement is heightened by the completion of homework in elementary school but Kohn dismisses the fact that it continues to heighten academic achievement in high school.  Willingham states that Kohn claims,

“ ‘More sophisticated statistical controls’ show that it doesn’t help at all’ ” (Willingham, 2009).  Alfie Kohn’s website claims that Time says that Kohn is “ ‘Perhaps the country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades [and] test scores’ ” ( 

Kohn’s purpose in writing this book is to educate those on what tougher standards will essentially do to our students.  Kohn examines many factors that are wrong with the educational system and how students are being taught but his main priority in the book is to make people understand that raising the standards are not going to help our students learn more.  His principle topics surround the purpose of him writing this book completely.  Very often he states the absurdity of the new educational system.  He makes sure that everyone who is reading his book understands that this was not the way it always was and he is definitely correct.  He points out at the very beginning of the book that parents often think that what their children are learning is perfectly okay because they had rigorous classes as well and why should their kids be any different? 

There are three main points, out of the many that Alfie Kohn discusses in the book that I would like to discuss for the purpose of the review.  The three main points are as follows: tougher standards are not the answer, tougher standards are business-oriented and not what educators and parents want for their students and children, and moving away from tradition.  All three points are mentioned in the very beginning but continue to be expressed throughout the entire book. 

When Kohn first talks about tough standards not being an answer he writes, “People from parents to presidents have begun to sound like cranky, ill-informed radio talk-show hosts, and almost anything can be done to students and to schools, no matter how ill considered, as long as it is done in the name of ‘raising standards’ or ‘accountability’ ” (Kohn, 1999).  What he is trying to say is that people are no really looking into the matter completely.  They are just reiterating whatever the read or see on the news which is not always helpful.  In order to understand the facts, one must look into every possible problem, cause and solution.  Kohn writes about a middle school teacher who claimed that he was no longer a good teacher because all he and his colleagues do is hand out textbooks and quiz their students are whatever it is that they have memorized about the course that is being taught.  Kohn writes that the teacher and his colleagues were forced to continue raising the grading standards.  This is one part of the educational system that I greatly disagree with.  Raising the standards for testing grades is not helping the children learn any better or any faster and it certainly is not helping them get a great grade point average.  Kohn writes, “In a broad sense, it is easier to measure efficiency than effectiveness, easier to rate how well we are doing something than to ask if what we are doing makes sense.  But the heirs of Descartes and Bacon, Skinner and Taylor, rarely make such distinctions” (Kohn, 1999).   I think Kohn uses people like Descartes, Bacon, Skinner and Taylor because they are all famous for thinking things out and applying what they knew and learned instead of making people memorize random facts.  Students should not be quizzed on what they remember but how they are able to apply what they remember because that is what shows whether or not they really learned anything.  Anyone can memorize facts.  

When writing about how tougher standards are business-oriented and not what educators and parents want for their children, Kohn writes, “Thus, when business thinks about schools, its agenda is driven by what will maximize its profitability, not necessarily by what is in the best interest of the students.  Any overlap between these two goals would be purely accidental – and, in practice, turns out to be minimal.  What maximizes corporate profit often does not benefit children, and vise versa” (Kohn, 1999).  Kohn goes on to say that those who we have elected have seemed to just “handed the keys to our schools over to corporate interests” (Kohn, 1999).  In simpler words, Kohn is talking about how schools are thought of as business now and at the moment the only way for the business to benefit is to raise standards.  Schools are no longer thought of as a place to teach children.  Some people even call them free child care services for people who work.  The educational system is no longer made to benefit the children and it is not fair. 

Traditionalism in education is wholly about reading something, memorizing it, and writing it down on a piece of paper to get one hundred percent and drilling students to memorize.  In other words, no learning happens.  Aflie Kohn believes that the educational system should be steering clear of that because children are not learning.   Kohn writes, “One justification is that memorizing is useful in its own right, a way of training the mind.  To the best of my knowledge, there is no evidence to support this belief.  Committing thing to memory may train you to be a better memorizer, but there is absolutely no reason to think that it provides any real cognitive benefits” (Kohn, 1999).  I agree with this one hundred percent, as I began to say in the preceding paragraph, because children are not able to apply what they have memorized.  For example, when I did my required ten hours of educational field work, the kindergartners I was with were able to state what an inferential and literal question were but they were not able to explain why they were called such or they were able to explain that one and five was six but they were not able to explain how they got their answer.  The most common response was, “Because I just now.” 

In the forward of The Schools our Children Deserve, Alfie Kohn talks about drilling education into students of African-American and Latino descent in poor communities.  He stresses that drilling the work into students in poor communities, and making whole classes repeat back what is learned is ultimately not helping these students.  I agree with this because I feel that a teacher can repeat something a million times and have the students repeat it as well but drilling and repeating it only helps students to remember the facts, not to understand the facts.  The whole point of learning is not supposed to be remembering, anyone can remember, it is to be able to understand the world and bow it works.  Anyone can remember Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean in 1492 but it is more important to understand why he did it and what came out of it. 

To conclude the book, Kohn has a chapter titled The Way Out which discusses moving away from grades, standardized testing and traditionalism.  He explains that are better ways to find out what a student is learning.  He writes, “The evidence suggests that, all things being equal, students in a school that uses no letters or numbers to rate them will be more likely to think deeply, love learning, and tackle more challenging tasks” (Kohn, 1999).  I agree with this because if there is not a letter grade or a number grade that is used to assess students, the students themselves will be able to feel confident in themselves rather than feeling unconfident because they appear lesser to their classmates.  He writes in the book that in 1995, the National Forum on Assessment discussed “guidelines” about what would replace grades.  One of the members of the National Forum on Assessment, who was a principal, stated that the students would get assessments with a sole purpose of improving the students’ skills.  

I believe that this book was very informative.  The fact that it was written fifteen years ago just shows how much worse the educational system is getting.  While assessments are done throughout the year to help improve students’ skills, the assessments are not what is taken into consideration.  Reading this now, I realize just how much the educational system has not changed since 1999 and it probably will not change for a very long time.  I believe that this book is very useful to any progressive teacher because they will understand what not to do in their classrooms and what is really going on in the educational field.  It will help progressive teachers make a difference in the classrooms even if they cannot make a difference in the entire educational system.  This book was definitely written in favor of the students and strives to help students learn better regardless of what their age is. 







Reference Page

Kohn, A. (1999) The schools our children deserve: Moving beyond traditional classrooms and “tougher standards”

Biography (n.d.) Retrieved from <>

Willingham, D. (2009) Alfie Kohn is bad for you and dangerous for your children

            Retrieved from: <









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