Five bad education assumptions the media keeps recycling

Aug 29, 2013 by

AlfieHere author Alfie Kohn uses a review of Amanda Ripley’s new education book, “The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way,”  to write about how the media keeps recycling bad education assumptions. Kohn is the author of 12 books about education and human behavior, including “The Schools Our Children Deserve,” “The Homework Myth,” and “Feel-Bad Education… And Other Contrarian Essays on Children & Schooling.” He lives (actually) in the Boston area and (virtually) at

By Alfie Kohn

It very rarely happens that the cover of The New York Times Book Review, which represents some of the most prestigious intellectual real estate in the United States, is given over to a discussion about education.  When that does happen, as it did last Sunday, it becomes clear why “school reform” just perpetuates and intensifies the education status quo.

A certain ideology, along with a set of empirical assumptions, underlies most conversations about education in this country, most of what actually happens in schools, and most proposals for change.  These assumptions are accepted by the overwhelming majority of politicians, business leaders, and journalists.  (Whenever three entities are involved in something, the usual metaphor is a three-legged stool.  Here, I find myself thinking of the recycling logo, in which three bent arrows are arranged in a triangle, each one pointing to another in an endless loop.)

Progressive critics have complained to one another about how corporations, corporate foundations, and a corporate sensibility drive education policy.  The creation of the Common Core “State” Standards is only the most recent example.  We’ve also pointed out that Democratic and Republican public officials sound remarkably similar when they talk about schools — similar to one another and similar to the business community.  But much less has been said about how journalists who cover education tend to reflect and feed this same mainstream — and, I think, deeply flawed — view of education.

Five bad education assumptions the media keeps recycling.

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