Challenging the Status Quo
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This article was downloaded by: [McMaster University]On: 17 December 2014, At: 13:14Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK
The Educational ForumPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/utef20
Challenging the Status QuoMax MalikowPublished online: 30 Jan 2008.
To cite this article: Max Malikow (2006) Challenging the Status Quo, The Educational Forum,70:2, 186-187
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00131720608984888
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Challenging the Status QuoWhat Does It Mean to Be Well Educated? And More Essays on Standards,Grading, and Other Follies by Alfie Kahn. Boston, MA: Beacon Press. 2004. 184 pages. ISBN 0-8070-3267-0.
If you are familiar with Alfie Kohn, an introduction is unnecessary. How ever, ifyou do not know of hi s work, then no introduction w ill suffice. For 20 years, Kohnhas been an ed u ca tion al gadfly, challenging widely held beliefs about teaching andlearning. Perhaps Kohn does belong in the company of Dewey, Piaget, and Bruner,as Jonathan Kozol claimed on the book's back cover. Even if Kohn does not, he cer-tainly has a way of getting the attention of the educationally interested.
What Does It Mean to Be Well Educated? is Kohn's ninth book. It includes 18 essaysgrouped under five headings: (1) the purposes of schooling; (2) standards and test-ing; (3) grading and evaluating; (4) moral, social, and p sychological questions; and(5) sch ool reform and the stu d y of education. In his inimitable style, he questionsassumptions about standardized testing ("Standardized Testing and Its Victims"),rewarding stu d en ts ("Five Reasons to Stop Saying, 'Good [ob"), and other rarelychallenged educational practices.
In addressing the purposes of schooling, he opines that job-skill acquisition,high test scores, and fact memorization are poor definitions of what it means to bew ell-educated . Instead, Kohn agrees with Meier (1995) that well-educated peopleare those who have developed five habits of the mind. Well-educated people rec-ognize the va lu e of rai sing questions about ev idence (how do we know what w eknow?), point of v iew (whose perspective does this represent?), connec tio ns (how isthi s related?), supposit ion (how might things have been otherwise?), and relevance(why is this im p ortan t?).
Standards and testing have been ongoing issues for Kohn. He vigorouslymaintains that stan d ard ized testing not only utilizes invalid instruments, but al sosabotages effective pedagogy and frustrate s ingenious teachers . Anyone familiarwith Kohn' s Punished by Rewards: Th e Troubl e w ith Gold Stars, In centive Plan s, A 's,Praise, and Other Bribes (1993) will not be su rp rised b y his exposition on gradingand evaluation.
In the essay"A Fresh Look at Abraham Maslow," Kohn (140) declares and ex-plains that the emperor has no clothes:
There are real probl em s with his hierarchy of needs, beginning with the slipperi-ness of his terms and the difficulty of demonstrating empirically wheth er or not hewas right . It is not jus t that Ma slow wa s 'ou t ahead of the data , ' as he himself put it ,but that it is v irtually impossibl e to test his theory.
186 The Educational Forum Volume 70 Winter 2006
On the matter of school reform, Kohn adjures the reader that educators who settlefor keeping control of the classroom while ignoring problems with the curriculum aremisdirecting their attention.
Schools of education engaged in research and teacher training have not escapedthe author' s notice. Kohn ass erts, "Some scholars have slippe d so far into the sty lize dtalk ... of academia that important ideas are rendered virtually incomprehensible tomo st peopl e" (179). He challeng es teacher educators to reassess their own pedagogy:" It is not uncommon to find university instructors who see them selves as critical think-ers, progressive, and even radical cri tics of the sta tus quo, but who rely on tradition alpedagogical method s to transm it these ideas" (183).
What Does It Mean to Be Well Educated? is an informative, enjoyable, thought-pro-voking volume. Kohn's style is engaging and his ideas have subs tance. The topics headdresses are indisputably relevant. Thi s book would be an ass et in a graduate levelcritical issues course as well as an undergraduate foundations of education course .Dewey (1916, 100) said, "The goal of education is more education." This is a book thateducates an d excites a desire for more education.
ReferencesDewey, J. 1916. Democracy alldeducation, New York: MacMillan.Kahn , A. 1993. Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A's, praise, and other bribes. Boston , MA:
Hought on-Mifflin.Meier, D. 1995. The power of their ideas: Lessonsfor America from a small school ill Harlem. Boston , MA: Beacon Press.
Max Malikow is Assistant Professor of Education at Le Mayne College in Syracuse, NewYork, and a psychotherapist in private practice. He is a member of the Upsilon Psi Chapter ofKappa Delta Pi.
The Educational Forum Volume 70 Winter 2006 187