Book Reviews

What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated?

by Alfie Kohn

Reviewed by Leonard H. Elovitz
Chair, Educational Leadership Department, Kean University, Union, N.J.

Chances are good that you have read some of this book already. The 18 articles that comprise What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated? And More Essays On Standards, Grading and Other Follies were written by lecturer and author Alfie Kohn, and all were published in various periodicals between 1999 and 2003, appearing in The School Administrator, as well as Educational Leadership, Phi Delta Kappan and Education Week. What a treat to have them all in one volume.

Kohn has been described in Time magazine as "perhaps the country's most outspoken critic of education's fixation on grades [and] test scores." In this book, he challenges prevailing thinking on standards and testing, grade inflation, the role of American business in education, school violence, punishments and rewards and other topics.

From the outset he contends the most urgent educational issue of the day is the accountability fad with its undemocratic reliance on top-down standards and high-stakes testing. This theme resonates throughout most of the essays, along with his allegation that the current political call for reform is actually a plot to dismantle the public education system.

This is not to say Kohn believes our current system doesn’t need reform. He wants serious change in competition, rewards and punishments, lack of student involvement in designing their own learning and the standardization of instruction.

In the current political climate, school district administrators must make difficult decisions regarding school improvement. Readers will probably find themselves enthusiastically supporting some of Kohn’s ideas while just as enthusiastically rejecting others.

(What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated? And More Essays On Standards, Grading and Other Follies by Alfie Kohn, Beacon Press, Boston, Mass., 2004, 208 pp. with index, $16 softcover)