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Feel-Bad Education: And Other Contrarian Essays on Children and Schooling [Paperback]

Alfie Kohn
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

April 5 2011
Mind-opening writing on what kids need from school, from one of education’s most outspoken voices
 
Arguing that our schools are currently in the grip of a “cult of rigor”—a confusion of harder with better that threatens to banish both joy and meaningful intellectual inquiry from our classrooms—Alfie Kohn issues a stirring call to rethink our priorities and reconsider our practices.
 
Kohn’s latest wide-ranging collection of writings will add to his reputation as one of the most incisive thinkers in the field, who questions the assumptions too often taken for granted in discussions about education and human behavior.
 
In nineteen recently published essays—and in a substantive introduction, new for this volume—Kohn repeatedly invites us to think more deeply about the conventional wisdom. Is self-discipline always desirable? he asks, citing surprising evidence to the contrary. Does academic cheating necessarily indicate a moral failing? Might inspirational posters commonly found on school walls (“Reach for the stars!”) reflect disturbing assumptions about children? Could the use of rubrics for evaluating student learning prove counterproductive?
 
Subjecting young children to homework, grades, or standardized tests—merely because these things will be required of them later—reminds Kohn of Monty Python’s “getting hit on the head lessons.” And, with tongue firmly in cheek, he declares that we should immediately begin teaching twenty-second-century skills.
 
Whether Kohn is clearing up misconceptions about progressive education or explaining why incentives for healthier living are bound to backfire, debunking the idea that education reform should be driven by concerns about economic competitiveness or putting “Supernanny” in her place, his readers will understand why the Washington Post has said that “teachers and parents who encounter Kohn and his thoughts come away transfixed, ready to change their schools.”

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Feel-Bad Education: And Other Contrarian Essays on Children and Schooling + Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes
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Review

“Kohn cuts against the grain and takes on adversaries without fear, and yet with a mature and rational sophistication.” ―Jonathan Kozol

"[A] spirited and incisive probe of education today." —Publishers Weekly

“A philosophical, well-structured argument for viable progressive education from one of the movement's most prolific and well-regarded authors…A vital wake-up call to educators.”—Kirkus Reviews
 
“The reader will find much to reflect upon in Feel-Bad Education, and will be mindful of controversies that are still unexplored in this short but enjoyable volume.”—The School Administrator
 

About the Author

Alfie Kohn’s previous eleven books include Punished by Rewards, Unconditional Parenting, and What Does It Mean to Be Well Educated? (Beacon / 3267-1 / $16.00 pb). He speaks widely on education to teachers and parents, and lives in Belmont, Massachusetts.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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5.0 out of 5 stars interesting read May 5 2014
By cyndie
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Enjoyed how the book made me question what i do. Makes you think about how you teach and ways you may change
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
59 of 59 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking essays on timely matters in education. April 19 2011
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
While not actually being a researcher himself, Alfie Kohn has become a fairly well-known commentator on education based on his broad knowledge of research on many topics of interest to teachers and educational policymakers. Most of his books and essays are backed up by a great deal of research conducted by professionals and published in peer-reviewed journals. This is his latest book and it is actually a collection of essays, many of which appeared elsewhere and some of which relate to topics covered in some of Kohn's earlier books. This book is divided into five general sections each of which have a number of essays relating to the topic of that section. The sections roughly cover: the concept of progressive education, the nuts and bolts of learning, such as what happens in a classroom, the climates for learning we create in schools, educational policy and psychological issues related to education. Each essay is well-documented and he makes ample reference to other books and essays he has written in case the reader is interested in going into any one topic in greater detail.

The tenor of this book could generally be described as progressive or anti-conservative. In essay after essay, Kohn turns conservative conventional wisdom that has tended to dominate national discussions on education, upside down. Some of the things he sees as being counterproductive are: homework, standardized testing, the use of rubrics, encouragement of self-discipline, the use of rewards and incentives, competition in the classroom, nationalized standards and the memorization of facts. If questioning some of these things sounds ridiculous to you, you might find this book interesting because he does a convincing job of calling into question these and more practices, some of which enjoy an almost unquestioned status in our society. One gets the impression after reading his book that the state of education in the US is dismal and getting worse, although I don't think that is necessarily his intent or even his own conclusion. I think the end goal of all of these essays is to go beyond questioning conventional wisdom to suggest ways of actually making education better for everyone involved. One of the undercurrents I noticed in this book is a serious concern about the encroachment of corporate activity or corporate ideas into education. Kohn seems to be genuinely worried that corporations are seeing education as a business opportunity and that business mindsets which are not always appropriate in educational settings are trumping actual educational research when it comes to policy-making.

For those who have already read many of Kohn's previous books and articles, this particular volume may seem more like a summary of his thoughts than something new. For those who have never read anything by him, this is an excellent introduction to some of his ideas and is a refreshing, thought-provoking, albeit contrarian look at some of the issues that are commonly discussed on the battlegrounds of public policy on education.

On a personal note, after reading one of Kohn's books suggesting that homework might be counterproductive in many ways, I decided to try it out for myself and banned homework from my classes. It was one of the best decision I have made as a teacher and has been highly successful for the most part. Sometimes things that seems counterintuitive are only that way because we have become so used to following particular practices without really questioning the validity of them. I have long held that if we really want to improve education all around, we should rely on educational research no matter how contrary the findings run to what seems to make sense based on conventional wisdom. This book by Alfie Kohn is a starting point for laypersons who are open to considering these kinds of possibilities.
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Intro to Kohnian logic June 26 2011
By Gerald A. Heverly - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
For those who have read Mr. Kohn's other books on schools and families this book will be no more than a series of digests of his ideas. But the ideas are where the fun is, right? Few writers on manners and morals incite more virulent adherents and opponents than Alfie Kohn.
Just for fun I'd like to lay out my own reading of Alfie's basic assumptions. If I'm right you should find evidence of each one in this book. And let's contrast his views with people who disagree with the author. I'll list Kohn's assumptions first. For the sake of brevity I will not deal with Kohn's ideas on families.

1. First and foremost children come to school with inherent virtue that can be nurtured (by stimulating lessons and caring teachers) or corrupted (by undemocratic teachers instilled in the beliefs of behaviorist rewards and punishments). Opponents say that kids come to school faced with choices between virtues and sin and are only prevented from making the wrong choices by controls used by the schools and by the family.

2. In school kids come loaded with intrinsic motivation to learn (after all learning is a natural process that we engage in nearly nonstop throughout our days). Opponents argue that kids come to school (remember they are there by fiat, not by choice) without motivation and it is the job of the school, particularly the classroom teacher, to steer them toward good decisions.

3. The knowledge we should be encouraging is discernment not information. Opponents argue that wisdom is derived only after information is amassed.

4. Knowledge cannot be measured. Opponents say that taxpayers (in public schools) and parents (in private schools) pay the bills and it would be irresponsible to deny them an objective measurement of whether their money is being squandered. The only viable measurement is a test of what kids have learned.

5. Grades and competition inevitably reduce intrinsic motivation. Opponents argue that captive students must be forced to try (work) in the classroom by extrinsic factors. Grades are a way of defining and recognizing virtue in our society.

6. A little revolution is a good thing. Children should learn to be wary of adult dictums because they are often based on what is good for the institutions at the expense of the child. Opponents live on the Slippery Slope. A child who questions one rule will learn to challenge many or all of them, leading to anarchy. It is assumed that the teacher will do nothing that is not in the best interests of the child.

7. The job of the school is to make the child's experience enjoyable. Dull tasks cause the child to ignore or resent education. Opponents want the school to be challenging since virtue can only be earned day by day with continuous good choices. Learning, they say, is difficult, and requires sacrifice and effort.

8. The school should address deeper motives and deeper concerns, rather than try to change behavior. Opponents say that the teacher must rely on his or her own wisdom--presumably gained through age--to model and enforce classroom morality. In the daily classroom there is no time to ferret out each child's inner motives. The teacher owes it to all the students to enforce obedience. There simply isn't time in a normal teacher's day for what Kohn suggests.

9. Never withdraw love or affection from a child. Opponents say, "love the sinner, not the sin" and advocate isolating misdoer's until they learn to follow the rules.

10. Happiness in the short term will lead children to a well-balanced personality in adulthood. Opponents say struggle, work, effort, and sacrifice lead to happiness in adulthood.

11. Rewards and punishments can produce short-term compliance but always lose out to intrinsic motivation over the long haul. Opponents say, "So what!", we teachers live for the moment and getting short term, quick compliance is the only way we can survive in the classroom.

12. The more democracy in the classroom, the better. Students should be involved in choosing the curriculum and in developing the classroom rules. Opponents say, in the classroom, children should be seen but not heard.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Feel Bad Education Feb. 10 2012
By Barc - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Alphi Kohn does a good job describing what progressive education looks like. Kohn also describes the short comings of the traditional approaches to teaching and learning. As in other texts that he has written he makes a stand against the short falls that have come about from standardized testing and the threats of nationalizing an education curriculum which would standardize a curriculum for all all students across America. His stand against the current competitiveness found in our schools forces the reader to reflect on current practices and hopefully bring about construtive changes.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars common sense outlook Jan. 15 2012
By k.a.o. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was our elementary school book club pick. I will definitely look to read more by Alfie Kohn. He sees into the classroom in realistic and practical ways, considering real students. In New York City, we have many good teachers whose hands have been tied because of a mayor trying to run the education system like a business. Children are individuals, not numbers! I highly recommend this book.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars for teachers June 18 2012
By Fran - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you are at all interested in looking at an alternative view to classroom teaching, developmental practice and oppression- this may be your book. Kohn has a magical way of never undermining the huge issues our country faces in the name of education but does it in a way that does not leave you feeling drained or depressed...rather, motivated. I loved reading this book the first time and look forward to reading it again and again! A highly recommend to ALL new teachers in the field.
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