Monday, May 17, 2010

Book Review: Brave New Schools

I originally posted this on my old blog.  It was written in response to questions a friend asked.  I have modified it some and also included clarifying comments in brackets.

"I looked at the description of the book you're reading. What kind of solution does [s]he give for the problems with the public schools? Is there a solution? Working at a public school, I think the two biggest hazards to a young child are these: 1) kids that do not behave and distract, torture, and pervert the minds of other children who are there to learn and 2) being in an environment, much like the rest of the world, where it is easy to forget Jesus (and most of them are not blessed enough to have parents to remind them when they get home).
The educators I know at the elementary level are struggling to help kids learn to read, write, and do math. They don't take the time to deliberately indoctrinate, and are annoyed when character education, conflict resolution, and obscure cultural units (and all kinds of other educational trends) are foisted on them from the educational bureaucracy. Certainly, academia as a whole, especially the universities where teachers are trained and taught, are full of humanism and "one world" thought. But teachers *actually in a classroom* for the most part just want their students to learn the skills they need to provide for themselves and communicate clearly as adults. So, how do we help teachers get control of their classrooms again so they can get back to the basics and just the basics? How do we discipline unruly children when their parents will sue at the drop of a hat? Maybe the book answers those questions."

The book is called Brave New Schools, written by Berit Kjos. I checked it out from the library, and I don't recall what led me to do so - whether I just saw it and thought it looked interesting b/c of the title (a play on Huxley's Brave New World), or whether it was recommended in something else I read. Regardless, I didn't know what to expect from it when I got it, but it's interesting. I try to rank books I check out from the library before I return them, as to whether they're worth rechecking, or possibly buying at some point, or if I really like them I put them on my book wish list. It's an adapted version of the tier system someone mentioned to me several years ago, a check to keep the money-conscious book lover from buying the entire store. ;) My note on this book says "recheck per interest/need or buy someday perhaps," which means I have books I'd rather spend my money on at this point in my life, whatever that's worth to you.

The author doesn't offer solutions per se to the problems with public education, but she does have a chapter at the end called "What You Can Do." She's a professing Christian, and presents her thoughts from that standpoint. She doesn't advocate homeschooling or even address it much in the book, except that she does mention something to the extent that she thinks that if those who promote the "one world" agenda have their way, homeschooling will eventually become irrelevant -- they'll get ya no matter what you try, homeschoolers eventually won't have the freedom to opt out. While that sounds paranoid as we sit here in America [although it perhaps shouldn't so much anymore -- if you haven't looked into the need for a Parental Rights Amendment, PLEASE do so -- this pertains to ALL parents and their children, not just homeschoolers], it is certainly possible -- similar things have happened before in history.  This book was written in 1997. I'd be interested to see what she says about homeschooling now that it's become a more popular and well-known option. But what she offers in this book is basically summed up in things most conscientious godly parents really already know deep down. I'll list:

1)  Be spiritually minded, pray, and prepare yourself spiritually, because that's really what it's about. There's a spiritual battle being waged, and it's over not only our souls but the souls of our children, serious stuff.

2) Teach your children, through: communication; helping them learn the word of God, how it applies to them, how to examine the culture in the light of the word; discussing the seductive vision of global oneness from a biblical perspective; teaching them scripture to counter accusations that will be hurled at them if they speak up for the truth (such as that they are intolerant, judgmental, arrogant, narrow-minded, etc.); don't compromise; prepare them for the possibility of facing persecution.

3) She mentions what most "good parent" books I've seen all come around to at some point - she words it "play with" your children, others say it other ways but it's basically the same idea - that of having a good relationship with them built on shared time and heart-bonding experiences. This is a key in keeping their hearts so that they will trust us and want to submit out of love and trust when they no longer have to because we're bigger than they are.

4) She says we need to stand together with others against the world, but she doesn't really elaborate on this one much.

5) She advocates making efforts to influence others by things like knowing the facts and being involved with the school system your child is in.

The above makes it sound like this is a very religious book, but actually most of it is spent relaying information regarding the governmental educational establishment and its more recent trends. It is written for believers in Christ, though. She'll scare you silly and then remind you not to be afraid because God is over all. :-O No, it's not really that bad, but she does reveal disturbing things. I found it interesting and informative nonetheless. She discusses Outcome-Based Education, Parents As Teachers, etc. - their origins and possible underlying agendas. There's a timeline in the back of some events she feels are key in the educational system since 1905. I was kind of surprised that she didn't go back even earlier and mention the beginnings, and such people as Horace Mann and Robert Owen, which is something I'd like to learn more about from the perspective of someone who's considered a less biased source, or a source on the other side, b/c all I've heard it from is home schoolers so far. But the timeline is revealing nonetheless.

There are numerous books available now concerning various problems with our nation's educational system; it's become a huge topic. I haven't really read a whole lot on it, although it is mentioned in homeschool books I've looked through, at least casually and often at length. But I didn't even read every word of this book; to me this subject is more something I watch from the sidelines with some interest. If I were to ever to consider sending my children into the system I'd do much more extensive research (which would especially include research and observation of the particular school(s) my children would be attending, and I'd want to know something about their individual teachers, too), but now I just kinda watch it to keep my eye on the game, so to speak [I'll add that I have a little more concern now than I had when I wrote this post -- again, look into the need for a Parental Rights Amendment]. My biggest concerns are with regard to how it could affect my own children, now or in the future, and right now I'm free to do my own thing without too much concern, which is a blessing. Yet, I do realize that it's possible we might not always have the freedoms we enjoy now in this country, so I need to be circumspect and aware, but not afraid of anyone but God at the same time. So, I check out this stuff from time to time. It's likely that there are more current volumes besides this one to explore that may be more valuable for an up-to-date assessment, I don't know.

In response to your query, IS there a solution, that's a good one, and it of course depends upon the paradigm through which you view the world. Many would say, yes, we need more government intervention, but others would say no, there is no workable solution to be found within the current system. Some have religious reasons for saying this, and some of them without involving religion just say the problems are too enormous, that any attempt to fix them means just adding to the beauracracy that already exists, etc. The thought of giving control of the classroom back to the teacher is a good one in theory and sounds simple enough, but when it comes to actual implementation, I'm inclined to agree with those who believe it would be a near-impossible feat to accomplish.

I know that many teachers within the system are excellent. I had some I considered to be such myself. I also know that there are fine Christians who do good work for our schools and are a positive influence where they are; I experienced the benefits of that myself as well, having known some Christians who worked in the schools I attended growing up. And I believe it's probably true as you say that the majority of the teachers actually in the classroom have no further ambitions than to just teach their subject matter to the students in an orderly way, to see the light in their eyes when they understand, and to feel they made a difference in the lives of children, helping them on the road to scholastic achievement. Most people don't go into education for the purpose of pushing their own personal or political agendas (although some do, or at least decide to push them once they are in the field). And I know many teachers are frustrated by mandated testing and other intrusions. Most of the problems in schools are not caused by the teachers -- just as with any organization, the fault can be with the higher-ups, or even with no one in authority, but it's the ones who are "in the trenches" who usually get complaints lodged at them and have to deal with the troubles the most.  It's too bad. And a lot of good teachers have given up on the system, too -- who can blame them?

Regardless of whether there IS a solution or not to all the difficulties and debates surrounding government education, the issue for most of us as parents comes down to what choice we're going to make for our own children's education. Are you going to deal with public schools as they are (b/c there's little real hope of making dramatic changes in them for the better, certainly not in any way timely enough to have it done before the baby you have now is school-age), or seek an alternative? And although there are disturbing trends in public education around the country, and although I have strong personal convictions about homeschooling my own children, I am not one of those people who believes everyone should necessarily homeschool, or that it is even my business why you make the decisions you do for your particular family.

God gave children to parents; it is their responsibility (and the fathers bear the greater responsibility) to "bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). They do so "as [seems] best to them" (as in Heb 12:10, although this is not a command, just a reference to what fathers do), and that implies freedom, and responsibility. Parents have the freedom to make the best choices they can for their family, and that's between them and God and whoever else they choose to involve; however, they're also responsible for the decisions they make. Hopefully, as parents we will make wise decisions, based on facts and on a desire to guide our families in a godly direction, but that doesn't mean cookie-cutter living.  There's room for different answers for different families, and different situations.

If we have a problem with the school system, then we don't have to send our children there. If we think that, in spite of any problems, it's best for our family if our children are enrolled there, then that's our decision. There are also other choices, such as private schools, and choices within the choices, depending on your state regarding involvement with the public schools, but in homeschooling the choices are far wider. I don't know much personally about private schools as I never looked into them extensively, but I know there are various options, and there are people you can ask, as well as numerous books/internet sources on the subject I'm sure. Look into things, be wise, pray, evaluate and don't be afraid to reevaluate from time to time, whatever your decision.  Finally, let's be secure with our decisions, seek to please God first and fear only him, and be loving and understanding with regard to others' decisions and opinions.

"Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another." Romans 14:19.

"...that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ - from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love." Ephesians 4:14-16

If you want to see this post in its original context, follow this link. There are some insightful relevant comments from some Christians I respect.

For more book reviews, follow this link or click on the tab at the top of the page.

This post is part of the Carnival of Homeschooling, hosted this week at Under the Golden Apple Tree.


  1. Outstanding review, makes me want to read it! Excellent spirit in answering questions. Thanks for sharing this post--I didn't see it the first time.

  2. :). You put it very well, Amber. As a parent who has considered homeschooling, and tried it this spring for 25 school days, and decided against it for now, I felt like I did get some experience in what parents who choose to homeschool encounter when trying to explain their decision to others. I like how your article stays positive, and how you emphasize being thoughtful and watchful in whichever path you choose. There are things about sending Calvin to Kindergarten that give me great pause, so I'll be watching for that while hoping for the best.

    As you said, with education and all other aspects of thoughtful parenting, we must always be re-evaluating and adjusting when needed, making sure our children are being trained up in a way that pleases the LORD. I would be comfortable homeschooling at any point in the future, but I'm holding out hope that in the case of my oldest, the school will provide the structure he seems to need to concentrate and be motivated to work on fine motor/writing skills (he was doing quite well with reading, math, science, and social studies at home).

    I'm afraid he may be a little different socially whether at public school or homeschool, the only difference being if I homeschooled, some may falsely blame his quirks on the schooling rather than my son being who he is. Actually, it's oddly comforting knowing my son has little to no desire to blend in!

    Anyway, thanks for re-sharing that. I'm still learning and praying here!