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Fixing education: Is it possible we're asking the wrong questions?

Published: Friday, Aug. 30 2013 6:00 a.m. MDT

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On Aug. 25, author and journalist Amanda Ripley’s new book “The Smartest Kids in the World” made the cover of the New York Times Book Review. The accompanying review of “Smartest Kids” — penned by Annie Murphy Paul, who like Ripley is a fellow at the New America Foundation — is glowing from beginning to end and ebullient in its praise for how Ripley contrasts America’s education system with those of Finland, South Korea and Poland.

“The question is whether the startling perspective provided by this masterly book can also generate the will to make changes,” Murphy Paul wrote for the Times. “For all our griping about American education, Ripley notes, we’ve got the schools we want.”

The Times isn’t alone in singing praises for “The Smartest Kids in the World.” Everyone from The Economist to the Huffington Post seems to be commending Ripley for the quality of her reporting and writing. Additionally, the book has a pristine 5-star user rating on Amazon.com.

All of which combines to make this next detail so unusual: Author and education expert Alfie Kohn unleashed a scathing critique of both Ripley and Murphy Paul in a piece he wrote Thursday for the Washington Post with the headline, “Five bad education assumptions the media keeps recycling.”

“The reviewer appears to accept just about all of what she takes to be the author’s key assumptions,” Kohn wrote. “The resulting review (titled ‘Likely to Succeed’) offers a cautionary collection of problematic premises. …

“One of the key features of the conventional wisdom, the dominant ideology (about education), is that we no longer recognize it as such because we hear it so often. There’s no food for thought here; everyone just knows that our students are lousy, or that raising test scores would improve our economy, or that grit is good; there’s no need to defend these propositions.”

Email: jaskar@desnews.com

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