Review: 50 Myths and Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education by David Berliner, Gene V Glass, and Associates (Teacher’s College Press, 2014)

A Review By Derick Varn 

19524292Berliner and Glass and their research assistants set this book to show “many citizens conception of K12 public education in the United States is more myth than reality.” While it does it admirably in parts, some of the answers some myths are also incongruent with answers given for other myths. The style and research support actually varies greatly between the various myths because of the large number of research assistants involved in the authorship. Each individual myth is basically an article on topic running down history and research quickly–and it is sourced. However, the sourcing is kind of bias and assertions made by researchers are often treated as conclusive to the research even if those assertions are more arguments than data or really editorializing.

The panoply of standard controversies are in the book: vouchers, charter school, homework, STEM focused education, PISA scores, teacher pay, etc. Many of the individual issues covered are sound, and many of the criticisms of I have seen leveled at this Berliner and Glass are conservative and stem from people anecdotal experience or fairly outdated views from Charles Murray and co. Yet there are serious issues with many of the assertions in the book. For example, the book indicates that not all students can learn everything and be expected to have same results, but then it denigrates both tracking and IQ tests. I agree with many of its criticisms of IQ tests, but the Flynn effect does indicate that peer groups do effect IQ and that people can learn beyond those limitations. Still the careful reader will see my frustration, and its not just on intelligence plasticity: Berliner attacks PISA scores, but it is crucial to several other myths in the book.

The strongest sections were “Myths about College and Career Readiness,” which tackles hyperbole about STEM qualifications and the job placement (including that in many STEM fields we are already over-saturated almost as much as in the humanities), etc. This book, however, tackled no myths that are popular in Education schools but debunked outside of it: learning styles, while not mentioned, is not dealt with and many psychological myths held by teachers aren’t dealt with as well. Special Education students being unsuccessful academically in general is not dealt with, and this too is a common myth among teachers–despite it being a plank of “progressive education” and the movement towards inclusion since the late 1990s. This book pretty much solely aims itself at myths about education but not commonly held by educators.

In that the agenda is shown–“Myths about Teachers” while often true reads like an NEA pamphlet–which makes moderates and conservatives distrust the book. Furthermore, some of the myths being debunked haven’t even been dominant in the popular media for twenty years: Ed Hirsch’s background knowledge and minimal literacy gets unfairly attacked and attacked as if it is mentioned often currently.

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