The primary source materials for this book were
the live interactions I recorded as a journalist: myriad classroom
scenes in both public and private schools; interviews with teachers,
students, parents, political leaders, and academic experts; presentations
from industry and education conferences. To understand and frame
these anecdotes in their proper context, I of course turned to
the history of these fields—specifically, the literature
on education, child development and imagination, brain science,
technology, even politics and sociology. Some of the most tangible
and revealing literature was the reams of news articles that are
continually published about the ups and downs in both education
and the technology industry. Those articles, along with government
reports, internal memos, and other written documents I used as
sources, are fully listed in the book in an extensive Notes section.
But a subset of that material—the various books that guided
my inquiry—tell their own wide story about the hidden realities
of both educational and social change.
Talent in Young People, Benjamin S. Bloom, editor;
Lauren A. Sosniak, Anthony G. Kalinowski, William C. Gustin, Judith
A. Monsaas, and Kathryn D. Sloane; Ballantine Books, 1985. This
book, which profiles people who have achieved a high level of
mastery in a broad range of fields (the arts, sports, the sciences),
makes a powerful argument for the value of mentors and other kinds
of support that teach youngsters how to persevere. The editor
of this book is best known for his famous theory on the various
stages of learning and cognitive skill that he devised in the
1960s, called "Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives."
and Ecstasy by George Leonard, North Atlantic Books,
1968 and 1987. It’s no coincidence that Leonard, then an
education writer for Look magazine, conceived this book
in the idealism of the 1960s. It describes an educational environment
of unprecedented utopian proportions (pastoral geodesic domes,
children happily educating themselves on omnipotent touch screens,
and so on). When I met Leonard decades later and asked him about
why this vision failed to become real, he said, "It’s
not that computers are so dumb. It’s that we’ve discovered
that the human brain is much more complex and beautifully organized
than we’d ever dreamed." When I then asked him what
he thought about having so heavily promoted such idealism, he
smiled, shrugged and said, "That was the 1960s."
Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel
Goleman, Bantam, 1995. In this groundbreaking book, Goleman demonstrates
that IQ isn't nearly as important as personal traits such as self-awareness,
persistence, flexibility, and empathy. A former science reporter
for The New York Times and editor of Psychology Today,
Goleman assembles an impressive array of evidence here. This is
one of those books that really connects the hidden dots between
disparate fields and findings to make a long overdue argument.
Endangered Minds: Why Children Can’t Think and What We Can
Do About It by Jane Healy, Touchstone (Simon &
Schuster), 1990; and Failure
to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds–for
Better and Worse by Jane Healy, Simon & Schuster,
1998. Like many child development specialists, Healy, an educational
psychologist, focuses on the dangers of automated media on the
very young. With a few notable exceptions, she believes, intensely
automated material generally dulls their imagination and other
& Education by John Dewey, Touchstone, 1997 (first
published in 1938). Dewey is the well-known father of "progressive
education." (This is the non-traditional approach to scholastics
that, loosely defined, stresses creativity and understanding over
the mastery of facts.) While Dewey was never known as a writer
of great prose, in this brief book, one of his last, he explains
what can be gained by toiling through real and challenging practical
of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences by
Howard Gardner, Basic Books, 1983. Gardner has become the most
visible advocate of the notion that people have many different
kinds of intelligence. But as we can see (by Goleman’s Emotional
Intelligence, above, and several other books that follow),
there has been no shortage of theories about the different ways
people think and learn. While Gardner’s definitions are
a bit facile (and similar to the "taxonomy" distinctions
that Bloom devised two decades earlier), all of this literature
puts its finger on a valuable point: Our longstanding notions
of what constitutes intelligence—primarily quickness with
facts and tests, along with mathematical and verbal acuity—are
unnecessarily limited. For his part, Gardner argues convincingly
that skill in the personal, physical, and creative realms offer
signs of ability that are often more accurate and thus more durable.
Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture
by Frank R. Wilson, Pantheon, 1998. In this dense but provocative
book, Wilson traces the way the hand shapes the development of
the brain, language and human culture. The endeavor turned Wilson,
a neurologist, into a fervent opponent of the high-tech emphasis
in a range of domains—medicine, the workplace, and the classroom.
Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon and Miseducation:
Preschoolers at Risk, both by David Elkind (Addison-Wesley,
1988, and Knopf, 1987, respectively). In both of these books,
Elkind, a professor of child study at Tufts University, presents
an impressive array of evidence that our rush to get young children
into rigorous academics (including such things as early reading)
is actually making them fall behind.
Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment
by George Leonard, Penguin, 1991. Leonard (described in the notation
above on Education and Ecstasy) wrote this book
nearly three decades after his breathless account of futuristic
schools in computerized geodesic domes. The wisdom he gained in
the intervening years shows. This book is a marvelous exegesis
of the patience it takes to really master something; it’s
also a delightful send-up of the dysfunctional personality types
who chronically fail to master anything.
Moral Intelligence of Children: How to Raise A Moral Child
by Robert Coles, Random House, 1997. Coles is the prolific chronicler
of the meaningful in children’s lives. This book offers
a somewhat precious but helpful picture of how children develop
a sense of morality, and the kinds of activities, experiences,
and conversations that can further the process.
The Power of Their Ideas: Lessons from America from a
Small School in Harlem by Deborah Meier, Beacon Press,
1995. Meier is the founder of Harlem’s famous progressive
trailblazers, the Central Park East Schools, and the recipient
of a MacArthur genius grant for her work. This book engagingly
describes her experiences getting poor children to respond in
classrooms with the same fascination, discipline, and sense of
hope that children of wealthier families often exhibit.
Right to Learn: A Blueprint for Creating Schools That Work
by Linda Darling-Hammond, Jossey-Bass, 1997. Darling-Hammond,
one of the leaders of today’s progressive approaches to
education, delivers a convincing attack here on the prevailing
school bureaucracy. She points out, for instance, that in other
industrialized countries, the vast majority of school staff actually
teach, whereas in the U.S. most are administrators.
Elementary Students Through Their Individual Learning Styles:
Practical Approaches for Grades 3-6 by Rita Dunn
and Kenneth Dunn, Allyn and Bacon, 1992. For several decades the
Dunns have been the primary advocates of the notion that many
children (and adults) learn best in unconventional settings—while
sitting slumped on a sofa listening to music, for example, or
by doing their studies late at night when presumably they are
tired, or by having physical projects or frequent opportunities
to move and change what they’re doing, and so on.
Styles by Robert J. Sternberg, Cambridge University
Press, 1997. Written by a professor of psychology and education
at Yale, this is yet another valuable description of some unappreciated
ways that different people understand problems, analyze them,
and solve them.
A Theory of Instruction by Jerome Bruner, Harvard
University Press, 1966. Bruner is the American father of "constructivism,"
an educational theory arguing that children don’t learn
particularly well by being force-fed facts and figures. Instead,
constructivists believe, children must discover, or construct,
their own intellectual connections by doing physical projects
and other self-directed activities. (The other prominent founders
of this line of thinking are the famous Swiss psychologists Jean
Piaget and his Russian follower, Lev Vygotsky.) This book is an
early sample of Bruner’s thinking; later ones include Actual
Minds, Possible Worlds and The Culture of Education, both from
Harvard University Press, 1986 and 1996 respectively.
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House of Make-Believe: Children’s Play and the Developing
Imagination by Dorothy G. Singer and Jerome L. Singer,
Harvard University Press, 1990. This book has become something
of a classic on the topic of children and play. Even-handed and
well researched, it examines how certain activities, including
exposure to electronic media, affect children’s imagination.
Essential Steiner: Basic Writings of Rudolf Steiner,
edited by Robert A. McDermott, Harper San Francisco, 1984; and
Child's Changing Consciousness and Waldorf Education
by Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophic Press, 1988. Steiner was the
founder of Waldorf schools and an early "holistic" school
of scientific thought called "anthroposophy." In articulating
his theories, Steiner wrote a great number of books and articles,
most of which are far too arcane and abstract for the average
reader. A few of his more accessible remarks, which come from
these two books, are quoted in the chapter on Waldorf schools.
at the Center of the Curriculum by Judith Van Hoorn,
Patricia M. Nourot, Barbara Scales, and Keith R. Alward; Merrill
(Prentice Hall), 1993 and 1999. In stressing the role of imaginative
play in learning, the authors trace their argument to many of
the great modern child psychologists (Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky,
George Herbert Mead, and Erik Erikson). Although the book goes
to some unnecessary lengths to explain what should be common sense,
it also includes numerous examples of instructive playful activities
in domains ranging from art to mathematics.
Thinking Classroom: Learning and Teaching in A Culture of Thinking
by Shari Tishman, David N. Perkins, and Eileen Jay; Allyn and
Bacon, 1995. This book is written by members of ProjectZero, the
Harvard organization that studies creativity and arts in education.
As such, it strives to spell out a specific, step-by-step process
for sound thinking: reflection and understanding, applying principles
from one field to another, working with ingenuity and discipline,
and so forth.
The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of
Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim, Vintage Books, 1977.
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Digital by Nicholas Negroponte. In this brief book,
Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, makes a boosterish
but articulate case for a fulfilling digital future.
the Internet to School: Lessons from an Urban District
by Janet Ward Schofield and Ann Locke Davidson, Jossey-Bass, 2002.
This book has its shortcomings (the text is plodding and the district
is unnamed, going instead by the odd pseudonym “Waterford”).
But it is thorough. After studying Internet use in one district
for five years, the authors concluded that, all told, technology
had not made much difference.
Child and the Machine: How Computers Put Our Children’s
Education at Risk by Alison Armstrong and Charles
Casement, Robins Lane Press, 2000. While not terribly broad or
surprising, this book is full of worrisome studies and anecdotes
that offer a compelling warning.
Computer Generation by Peter Stoler, Facts on File
Publications, 1984. Written during the first big wave of popularity
for personal computers, this book captures many moments of early
optimism, much of which didn't pan out.
Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation
by Joseph Weizenbaum, W. H. Freeman and Co., 1976. As out of date
as this book would seem to be, it is widely regarded as a classic.
Written by a renowned professor of computer science from MIT,
it is no Luddite rant; the book is a tightly reasoned, informed
examination of the injurious ways that human beings tend to use,
and be used by, the tools they make.
Cult of Information: A Neo-Luddite Treatise on High-Tech, Artificial
Intelligence, and the True Art of Thinking by Theodore
Roszak, University of California Press, 1986 and 1994. Although
dense and a little overwrought, this was one of the first books
to advance a number of important arguments against high technology
in schools, in industry, and throughout society at large.
of Children and the Media, edited by Dorothy G. Singer
and Jerome L. Singer, Sage Publications, 2001. This is a thick
but useful academic reference work, which offers digests on a
range of research conducted over the years by experts in child
development. It focuses primarily on television and video games,
but it also includes a few chapters on computing, an area where
the scientific findings are still preliminary and tentative.
on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet
by Sherry Turkle, Simon & Schuster, 1995. For years, Turkle
has held a lonely position in academia as one of the few who deeply
understands technology but who can also see beneath its shiny
surfaces. The former wife of Seymour Papert, MIT’s guru
of computer programming for children, Turkle uses this book (and
an earlier work, The
Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit) to look
at a subtle phenomenon: how youngsters who use computers intensely
eventually develop an entirely different psyche and world view—sometimes
for the better, sometimes for the worse.
Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas by Seymour
Papert, Basic Books, 1980. This is where Papert, one of the primary
inventors of LOGO, first laid out his techno-sociological vision.
While Papert has never been terribly realistic in his predictions,
he is an extremely articulate advocate for technology.
Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Superhighway
by Clifford Stoll, Doubleday, 1995. This wonderful polemic by
a refugee from the technology industry was among the first to
lampoon the modern-day hype about the wonders of computing.
with Technology: Creating Student-Centered Classrooms
by Judith Haymore Sandholtz, Ph.D., Cathy Ringstaff, Ph.D., and
David Dwyer, Ph.D., Teachers College Press, Columbia University,
1997. A relatively uncritical but comprehensive portrait of Apple
Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT), the company’s decade-long
experiment with technology in schools.
and the Future of Schooling edited by Stephen T.
Kerr, University of Chicago Press, 1996. A scholarly volume offering
an impressive variety of perspectives and experiences with school
computing, both pro and con.
The Surrender of Culture to Technology by Neil Postman,
Vintage Books, 1992. Postman is one of the most well-known (and
most vituperative) critics of technology. While his arguments
often go overboard, he sketches a frightening portrait of a society
increasingly defined, shaped, and ruled by technology.
Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier
by Howard Rheingold, Addison Wesley, 1993. Like Negroponte, Rheingold
is a believer in the sociological changes that computers make
possible. One gets the sense that Rheingold has never encountered
an online interaction he doesn’t like. But he does convincingly
describe the new communication possibilities that computing has
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Aims of Education and Other Essays by Alfred North
Whitehead, The Macmillan Company, 1929.
the Classroom: Why School Reform Has Failed and What Parents Need
to Do by Laurence Steinberg, Simon and Schuster,
1996. Steinberg presents an array of evidence that students are
increasingly distracted by extracurricular demands and temptations—sports
practices; part-time jobs; social pressures; shopping malls; television
and videos (one could now add computers)—so much so that
they’re unprepared (or too exhausted) to study.
Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Education
by John Taylor Gatto, New Society Publishers, 1992. Anyone impatient
with the state of public education ought to treat themselves to
the writings of John Taylor Gatto. Twice named New York State
Teacher of the Year, Gatto makes a compelling case for staging
lessons outside the classroom.
End of Education: Redefining the Value of School
by Neil Postman, Vintage Books, 1995. As is Postman’s habit,
this book is delightfully irreverant and irrascible (and sometimes
excessive). Nonetheless, it gives education’s passive trend
followers a badly needed shake.
Expectations: Overcoming the Culture of Indulgence in America's
Homes and Schools by William Damon, The Free Press,
1995. Although writing with a level of detail that is of interest
mostly to educators, Damon offers some badly needed reminders
that factual rigor (the traditionalists' mantra) and creativity
(the progressive's priority) are not mutually exclusive.
Horace’s Hope: What Works for the American High School
by Theodore Sizer (Mariner Books, 1984, and Houghton Mifflin,
1996, respectively). Sizer is one of the most thoughtful critics
of school culture, particularly high school culture. Through the
device of a fictional, composite character (Horace, a middle-aged
teacher), Sizer tours us through a fascinating array of non-fictional
school scenes. Some are depressing, some are fabulously inspiring.
Back: A Century of Failed School Reform by Diane
Ravitch, Simon & Schuster, 2000. This is one of the most readable
and comprehensive histories of American education, albeit one
that’s quite critical of the progressive policies that have
generally dominated school change.
Good Citizens: Education and Civil Society, edited
by Diane Ravitch and Joseph P. Viteritti, Yale University Press,
2001. While most of the arguments here are predictable, the book
includes a few good essays on how real-world experiences with
local politics can make for good students.
Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America’s
Public Schools by David C. Berliner and Bruce J.
Biddle, Perseus, 1995. The primary target here is the notorious
1983 White House report "A Nation at Risk," which argued
(falsely, the authors claim) that U.S. schools were slipping into
& Underused: Computers in the Classroom by Larry
Cuban, Harvard University Press, 2001. Cuban is known in this
field for his earlier book on the subject (see Teachers and Machines,
below). This book is his update, based largely on intensive studies
that he and his graduate students conducted in schools around
Stanford University, where Cuban is a professor of education.
"The Culture of School and the Problem of Change"
by Seymour B. Sarasohn, Teachers College Press, 1996.
Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools
by Jonathan Kozol, Crown, 1991. The undisputed classic when it
comes to accounts of the horrible poverty that has been visited
upon classrooms across the country. Sadly, despite some superficial
improvements in funding for poor schools, the inequities that
Kozol describe still exist (see the close of chapter two in my
Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them
by E.D. Hirsch, Anchor Books, 1996. Hirsch is perhaps the leading
advocate of traditional approaches to school reform—the
notion that education is primarily about mastering a basic body
of knowledge. In his mind, creativity and understanding (the priorities
of the progressives) will come of their own accord—if students
are given the basic factual tools they need.
and Machines: The Classroom Use of Technology Since 1920
by Larry Cuban, Teachers College Press, 1986. This tiny but wonderful
book was the first to look at the long history of education’s
love affair with technology.
as a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman and Charles
Weingartner, Dell, 1969. This old classic was one of the first
to argue for education as an act of social acitivism. As such,
it inspired a generation of socially conscious teachers.
Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform
by David Tyack and Larry Cuban, Harvard University Press, 1995.
A concise history of efforts to change the culture of schooling—an
environment, the authors argue, that has been remarkably impervious
For A Miracle: Why Schools Can’t Solve Our Problems –
And How We Can by James P. Comer, M.D., Penguin
Books, 1997. Comer is the chief spokesman for reform efforts that
strive to get both teachers and parents more actively engaged
in the culture of their schools.
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What Went Wrong? by Donald L. Barlett and James
B. Steele, Andrews and McNeel, 1992. This is an expansion of a
nine-part series that these two Pulitzer Prize winners wrote for
The Philadelphia Inquirer. It chronicles the way the Reagan Administration
(with Wall Street’s help) slowly dismantled the economic
foundation under the middle class, largely by shifting the nation’s
tax burden away from the wealthy.
the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy
by James Fallows, Pantheon, 1996. While this book focuses on the
odd pathologies of the news media, it opens with some wonderful
insights into what guides the behavior of any institution—the
military, law enforcement, and so on. I borrowed his thinking
because the principles he outlines seem to apply equally well
to the field of education.
The Unity of Knowledge by Edward O. Wilson, Knopf,
1998. Wilson, who is known for his wide-ranging scientific mind,
coined this term to argue that the world’s myriad fields
of study— history, the sciences, the arts—have more
in common than most people have believed. As such, Wilson's findings
lend support to the theories of his more esoteric forebear: Rudolf
Steiner, founder of the Waldorf schools, the subject of chapter
Gift by Saul Bellow, Viking Press, 1973. As noted
above (see "On the imagination"), Rudolf Steiner founded
an unorthodox science called "anthroposophy." Strange
as his beliefs were, they had enough going for them to intrigue
Saul Bellow, whose hero in this novel is fascinated by Steiner’s
Like Us: Making America Great Again by James Fallows,
Houghton Mifflin, 1989. Writing at the peak of our 1980s’
bout of Asia envy, Fallows argued that imitating another country’s
social and economic mores is doomed to failure. More important,
the U.S. was founded on a spirit of adventure and egalitarianism
that we chronically forget, to our undoing. While his point argues
against borrowing too readily from other countries' systems of
education, Japan’s case is rather paradoxical: their elementary
schools actually make better use than we do of our own leading
education theorists, including stalwarts such as John Dewey.
Politics of Rich and Poor: Wealth and the American Electorate
in the Reagan Aftermath by Kevin Phillips, Random
House, 1990. For my discussions of the personal computer's early
history in schools (in the 1980s), Phillips'book offered some
context for the political and economic atmosphere of the period.
Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
by Malcolm Gladwell, Little, Brown & Co., 2000. This book
offers an unusually elegant examination what makes certain ideas
and social trends, such as computing, really take off.
Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake, 1790.
This ancient volume contains a line from one particular poem,
"The Proverbs of Hell," which seems to encapsulate humanity's
habit with fads like computers: "You never know what is enough
unless you know what is more than enough." This inspired
the final line in my book: "Let us all hope that it is not
much longer before that time comes when technology’s road
of excess will have led our schools, and the rest of us, to a
new palace of wisdom."
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