Book Reviews
 by Kathleen Melonakos

In Association with

Table of Contents

Richman, Sheldon, Separating School and State: How to Liberate American Families

Duffy, Cathy, Government Nannies: The Cradle to Grave Agenda of Goals 2000 and Outcome Based Education

Gatto, John Taylor, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Public Schooling

Rothbard, Murray, Education: Free and Compulsory

Coulson, Andrew, Market Education: The Unknown History

Arons, Stephen. Compelling Belief: The Culture of American Schooling

Arons, Stephen, Short Route to Chaos: Conscience, Community, and the Re-Constitution of American Schooling

Kilpatrick, William, Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong

Holt, John Caldwell, How Children Learn 

Holt, John Caldwell, Teach Your Own: A Hopeful Path for Education

Gutterson, David, Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense

Klicka, Chris, The Right to Homeschool: A Guide to the Law on Parent’s Rights in Education

Koetzsch, Ronald E., The Parents’ Guide to Alternatives in Education

Llewellyn, Grace, The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education

Lieberman, Myron, Public Education: An Autopsy

Smith, Adam, The Wealth of Nations

Lewis, C.S. The Abolition of Man

The Foundation for Economic Education, Public Education and Indoctrination

Novello, Mary, For All the Wrong Reasons

Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society

Matt Hern, (ed.), Deschooling Our Lives

Burleigh, Anne Husted, (ed.), Education in a Free Society

Harmer, David, School Choice: Why You Need It--How You Get It

Quade, Quentin, Financing Education: The Struggle Between Governmental Monopoly and Parental Control

Moo, Greg, Power Grab: How the National Education Association is Betraying Our Children

Sowell, Thomas, Inside American Education: The Decline, The Deception, The Dogmas

Eakman, Beverly E., The Cloning of the American Mind:  The Eradication of Morality Through Education

Blumenfeld, Samuel, Is Public Education Necessary?

Strickland, Guy, Bad Teachers: The Essential Guide for Concerned Parents

National Review Magazine, Special Education Issue

Toby, Jackson, “Obsessive Compulsion: The folly of mandatory high-school attendance,” National Review Magazine

Book Reviews

Richman, Sheldon, Separating School and State: How to Liberate American Families, The Future of Freedom Foundation, 1994.

       Hmmmm, freedom of education... what a concept?! One of the crowning glories of the American republican form of government and contributions to the world is freedom of religion. Sheldon Richman argues that due to our current compulsory public education system, instead of intellectual and religious freedom, we have many of the problems the Founding Fathers found inherent in an established church. In this concise book, Sheldon Richman outlines the original arguments for and against government schools, and quotes many of the proponents and opponents. One of the myths he shatters is that illiteracy was rampant before the government took over education. Not so; literacy was higher before public schooling. Richman also discusses the role public education has had in undermining the family, and discusses how society would be better off with freedom of education.

Duffy, Cathy, Government Nannies: The Cradle to Grave Agenda of Goals 2000 and Outcome Based Education, Noble Publishing Associates, 1995.

     Do most parents even know the first thing about Goals 2000, or Outcome Based Education? Do they have the slightest idea of the designs the social engineers have on their children? Government Nannies is a frightening look into the social policies being imposed by government bureaucrats today. “Under the cover of misleading goals, hazy jargon, and professional smiles, the nationalization of children in America’s schools proceeds apace...”says Allan Carlson of the Rockford Institute. Cathy Duffy cuts through the misleading goals and hazy jargon to expose a massive expansion of federal power and an anti-religious agenda, promoted, in most cases, without parents' knowledge or consent.

Gatto, John Taylor, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Public Schooling, New Society Publishing, 1992.

     John Taylor Gatto spent 26 years in the New York public school system, and was named Teacher of Year, among other awards. But now he spends his time traveling around the country advocating radical transformation of education. He says the seven lessons teachers teach in public schools are confusion, class position, indifference, emotional dependency, intellectual dependency, provisional self-esteem, and acceptance of government control. He traces the origins of our public schooling to the military model developed by the Prussians after their defeat by Napoleon. He argues that this model is hopelessly outdated and dehumanizing to kids. A best selling book, and thought provoking essay which should be read by every American.

Rothbard, Murray, Education: Free and Compulsory, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1999.

     I thought that the first part of this slim, fifty-five page volume is particularly worth the nominal price. The three sections are: The Individual's Education, Compulsory Education in Europe, and Compulsory Education in the United States. Rothbard elaborates Resche's recognition of the impossibility of equality in the first section, saying that the government attempt to produce uniformity is the gross injustice, not the tailoring of purposes and methods to unique needs that the free market allows. His essays on the history of compulsory education are interesting as well, although he disagreed with Sam Blumenfeld on a few points.

Coulson, Andrew, Market Education: The Unknown History, Transaction Publishers, 1999.

    Before becoming a Senior Research Associate of the Social Philosophy and Policy Center and spending four years researching this book, Andrew Coulson was a computer software engineer with Microsoft. In this thoughtful study, Coulson looks in history to compare and contrast education when it has been controlled by the state versus when it has been allowed to flourish in a free society. Two of the most striking examples he examines are the Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta. Sparta was a totalitarian state that took children away from parents and assumed total control over them. Sparta produced virtually no intellectual, literary or artistic achievements over the period of its history. Athens, in contrast, was a free-marketplace of ideas, where parents creatively arranged various ways for their children to learn. The world has rarely seen the kind of high-achieving society that was Golden Age Athens. Coulson also looks at other examples of free-market education systems such as pre-Civil War America, some periods in England and sectors of modern Japan. He looks at many of the problems besetting American education today, concluding many of them could be solved by privatization. An excellent argument backed up by diligent and rigorous research.

Arons, Stephen. Compelling Belief: The Culture of American Schooling, McGraw Hill, 1983. 

     This legal scholar and professor at the University of Massachusetts makes the shocking but compelling case in this book that the very concept of public schooling is unconstitutional. He says that curriculum content can never be “value-free,” and the U.S. Supreme Court has failed to deal with the First Amendment consequences of state control of school curriculum content. Compulsory attendance at government schools violates the fundamental principles of the First Amendment, the purpose of which is to guarantee intellectual and religious freedom.

Arons, Stephen, Short Route to Chaos: Conscience, Community, and the Re-Constitution of American Schooling, University of Massachusetts Press, 1997.

     In this book, Professor Arons develops his case more fully for the unconstitutionality of public schooling, first developed in his 1983 book, Compelling Belief, and in several other legal briefs. Prof. Arons criticizes both the liberal education establishment and the conservative critics, exposing how they both try to use the monopolistic system to promote their ideologies and impose their beliefs on other’s children. He particularly blasts Goals 2000 as intrusion of the federal government into areas beyond its lawful jurisdiction. Until we have radical reform and parental choice, Arons predicts that the school wars will continue to tear communities apart. This country was founded upon freedom of conscience, which means the freedom to form different beliefs (without which freedom of expression is meaningless) within the context of a caring community. He proposes a constitutional amendment which would re-constitute American education to uphold First Amendment principles.

Kilpatrick, William, Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong, Simon and Schuster, 1992.

     This is one of the most important books parents should read. One of the bedrock purposes when public schools were established was to teach moral principles, and citizenship. Children were taught honor, decency, respect, and other virtues through stories, poems, songs, and other instructional methods. Just as schools abandoned traditional methods of teaching reading (i.e. phonics) in favor of intellectual faddism with the disastrous results that inspired Why Johnny Can’t Read, in recent decades schools have abandoned traditional methods of character education with similarly disastrous results. In this book, Harvard Professor and sociologist Kilpatrick examines the theories behind the sex and drug education programs that took hold in the 60’s and 70’s, which have, in many cases led to increased sexual promiscuity and drug use. He also explains the underpinnings and results of the “therapeutic classroom.” He explains how “values clarification” and “decision making” undermine parental values, rather than “clarify” them, as claimed. He says most parents don’t know what is going on in their local school, and advises parents to find out, which may well prompt them to place their children in private or home schools.

Holt, John Caldwell, How Children Learn, Delta Seymour, 1989.

     John Holt spent years teaching in public schools but then became one of its most ardent critics. In How Children Learn, instead of theorizing about how children learn, he painstakingly and carefully describes how children learn. One of his basic themes is that children learn all the time, and not just in so-called learning situations. In this book he looks at the relationship between teacher and child and concludes that children have a remarkable way of figuring things out for themselves if their interests are piqued. He says public schools too often intimidate, humiliate, and dull kids’ natural desire to learn. How Children Learn has had an enormous impact and is one of the most important of Holt’s many books on education.

Holt, John Caldwell, Teach Your Own: A Hopeful Path for Education, Delacort Press, 1981.

     This is one of the books that helped to launch the homeschool movement. In the twenty years since it was written, homeschoolers have made tremendous strides, but in the early eighties there was fierce opposition to homeschooling from the education establishment. As Holt explains in the preface, this book is “in part an argument in favor of doing it [allowing children to learn outside of schools], in part a report of the people who are doing it, and in part a manual of action for people who want to do it.”

Gutterson, David, Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense, Harcourt, Brace, Jovonovich, 1992.

     David Gutterson is another public high school teacher who chooses to teach his own children at home, rather than subject them to mass education on the factory model. In this book, he tells why. He is not as harshly critical of the current system as some of the other former teacher/authors, such as John Taylor Gatto, or John Holt; after all, he continues to teach in it. At the same time, he sees first hand every day the results of segregating kids away from their parents, other adult mentors, and real-world situations. He feels we could do so much better. He says the urge to teach our own children is deep in our bones (or should be). He also informs us of the latest discoveries in learning theory. Mass schooling was invented before we knew through careful research that each child is expressly unique. In other words, there is no “one best system.” He advocates family-centered education and thinks that the public system could be arranged to be in partnership with parents, rather than usurping their roles, as it now does.

Klicka, Chris, The Right to Homeschool: A Guide to the Law on Parent’s Rights in Education, Carolina Academic Press, 1998.

     Historically, homeschooling was one of the major forms of education until the early 1900’s. Now, over one and a half million students are taught outside of schools. Since 1982, thirty-seven states have enacted laws specifically to protect the constitutional rights of parents to teach their own children. Written by the Senior Counsel of the Home School Legal Defense Association, this book is useful to parents who may not understand their rights, attorneys who may be called upon to represent homeschooling parents, activists who want to influence public policy, and legislators who may want to adjust state laws. It discusses the statutory trend to deregulate homeschooling, thereby encouraging families to continue this highly successful form of education.

Koetzsch, Ronald E., The Parents’ Guide to Alternatives in Education, Shambala, 1997.

     The subtitle of this book is “The first in-depth guide to the full range of choices in alternative schooling, with all the information you need to decide what kind of education is right for your child.” Indeed, Prof. Koetzsch, a PhD who teaches at Rudolf Steiner College in Fair Oaks, CA, has compiled a helpful manual. He first gives summaries of the trends in public education. Then he gives brief overviews of twenty-two different types of alternative education, with the history, philosophy and principles, and the practical strategies of each. If you have heard of Montessori schools, but don’t know what they are all about, or want to know about Waldorf schools, or Catholic schools, or Protestant Christian schools, or Friends Schools, or Foxfire schools, or International Baccalaureate Schools, or a number of other choices, this book is invaluable. The author succeeds at presenting a fairly accurate picture of each of the kinds of education, most of the time, although he fails to conceal his biases on some occasions. Along with describing the types of schools, he tells you where you can obtain further information, with addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses. There is also a chapter on how to choose a school, and one on how to start your own school.

Llewellyn, Grace, The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education, Lowry House, 1991, 1998.

     This book is packed with handy ideas and strategies for teenagers who are bored in school and want to take control of their lives. This idea of everyone having to go to the democratized high school for a set number of hours per day and days per year, even though they are almost adults, is crazy, Llewellyn says. Teens and parents have every right to decide for themselves about their working and studying lives. Llewellyn is also a former English teacher who gives teens and parents all the inspiration, support, resource information and ideas they need to succeed in today’s world without suffering through stultifying, mediocre classes, and the vapid, conformist social scene that many kids hate. This is a popular book that gets rave reviews from both critics and readers.

Lieberman, Myron, Public Education: An Autopsy,

     Myron Lieberman is one of the foremost spokesmen in favor of privatization of education and school choice. Longtime educator and collective bargainer for the teacher’s unions, he knows from the inside out the problems besetting education. He says major changes in our society make it impossible for the public school monopoly to meet the needs of children, families or society. Factors such as feminism, social mobility, divorce, and lack of social capital have contributed to the failure of children in school, and weakened the consensus upon which the idea of public schooling is based. He says rising affluence and consumer trends make it inevitable that parents will demand more quality and variety in education for their children in the years to come. He also describes the impossibility of trying to reform schools as they are presently governed, as teacher’s unions have a lock hold on them. The book he wrote prior to this best seller, Privatization and Educational Choice, 1989, is excellent too.

Smith, Adam, The Wealth of Nations, Liberty Fund 1981, first published 1776.

     This Great Book remains required reading for anyone who seeks to understand the economic mechanisms that order and shape our world. A classic, it remains consistently pertinent to any discussion of modern economics. Smith wrote an extensive chapter on education in this book. He discusses what happens when educators receive endowments from third parties which remove their accountability to students and their parents. The teacher can take advantage of the situation, and quality almost inevitably declines. The chapter on education is excellent, and his principles are as true today as ever. Recommended reading to anyone concerned with education.

 Lewis, C.S. The Abolition of Man, Touchstone, 1944, 1945.

     Don’t read any of C.S. Lewis’ books, because you might become converted or fervently recommitted to Christianity. Those familiar with Lewis know what an intelligent, engaging, thought-provoking author he is. Tony Snow, the national columnist and commentator cited The Abolition of Man as one of his favorite books, and it was listed by National Review as one of the top books of the twentieth century. It is Lewis’ essay on education, and is a most disturbing inquiry into the moral law. Morality is not a matter of personal preference, as some ignoramuses would have us believe, Lewis demonstrates. There is a universal Moral Law, that most societies acknowledge, but often fail to obey. This truth has momentous implications for American education, and the misguided notion of moral relativism.

The Foundation for Economic Education, Public Education and Indoctrination, New York, 1993.

     In this collection of thoughtful essays, various authors examine different aspects of Freedom of Education. The three main topics are Schooling and Learning in Earlier Days, The Cult of Public Schooling, and Contemporary Issues and Problems. There is a wealth of information here, and it is well researched and edited. One author traces the history of Lancastrian schools in early America, and why they were successful, but short-lived. Another author makes a case devastating to the Friedman's idea of vouchers, telling why it will lead to government takeover of private schools. Another discusses the moral dilemmas of public schooling, and how they will never be solved while under political control. Another lays out why the teacher’s unions were bound to gain political power, but in so doing, are likely to show the limits of public education as governed by unions. Another discusses freedom of religion and public schools.

Novello, Mary, For All the Wrong Reasons, University Press of America, 1998.

    Mary Novello spent time in France under the spell of Roussean philosophy, but became disenchanted with his ideas. In this book, one of her aims is to show the relationship between Rousseau’s ideas and the ultimate formation of government schools. She identifies the assumptions that are necessary to sustain public education, and analyzes those assumptions. She looks at Progressivism, Romanticism, Collectivism, and Nationalism, and examines their impact on education in America. Her final chapter is entitled, “Separation of School and State.”

Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society, Harper Colophon, 1970.

     This book has become a classic among those who would liberate education. Illich has an eye towards a society that is more humane, less militaristic, less consumerist, less conformist. He thinks individuals should be self-directed, not compelled by government to sit in classrooms for years. There are some innovative, practical, and insightful ideas in this book. For instance, he suggests using computers to directly match up people who want to discuss certain books, articles or films, rather than allowing all “education” to be monopolized by schools. Another interesting idea he suggests is that we alter the First Amendment to decree, “The state shall make no law respecting the establishment of education ...” Illich decries the vanity of the materialistic lifestyles and mindless conformity that government schools promote, and warns of the environmental and potential nuclear disasters which, he says, their ideologies have spawned. He advocates freedom of contract as the only justified and practical way for free, rational beings to learn from each other.

Matt Hern, (ed.), Deschooling Our Lives, New Society Publishers, 1996.

     Hern is a disciple of Ivan Illich, who operates a small community-based learning center for deschooled children in Vancouver, B.C. Contributors to this book of essays include Ivan Illich, John Holt, Leo Tolstoy, Vinoba Bhave, John Taylor Gatto, Grace Llewellyn, David Gutterson, Satish Kumar, and others. It is a terrific overview of all the things people are doing instead of sending their children to conventional schools, for instance forming community learning networks, homeschools, co-ops, democratic/free schools, and more. It is a collection of essays that challenges our assumptions about education.

Burleigh, Anne Husted, (ed.), Education in a Free Society, Liberty Press, 1973.

     From the preface--”If we are going to have a society of free and responsible people, they must have some capacity to read and write and reason. How can those capacities best be developed in a free society? Few, if any, institutions play a more central role in the life of the American family than the public school. Yet scarcely anyone today is happy with public education in the United States. If it were possible to start afresh with a system of any choosing, what sort of educational arrangements would we make?” Is it necessary that to sustain the ideal of freedom in the area of education, men must be compelled? Liberty Fund, a foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals, held a seminar in Indianapolis in March 1971. Four eminent scholars, including Russell Kirk, presented papers focusing on these compelling questions.

Harmer, David, School Choice: Why You Need It--How You Get It, Cato Institute, 1994.

      In 1993, The Parental Choice in Education Initiative appeared on the ballot in California, as Proposition 174. The proposal would have granted requesting parents half the per student/ per year expenditure in public schools in the form of a voucher to be redeemed at the school of their choice. At first the proposal was way ahead in the polls. However, the educational establishment viciously attacked it, using unlawful means and huge amounts of money, until it was ultimately defeated. Author and attorney, David Harmer drafted the proposal, and served as one of its chief proponents. In this book, Harmer describes the dismal state of public education in California, tells first hand the full story of Proposition 174, and gives suggestions on how a school choice plan might yet prevail. Included is the actual text of Prop. 174, so that readers can read for themselves what it actually proposed rather than the Education Empire’s vicious distortions of it. Also, by examining the actual text, the reader can analyze the problem of whether vouchers would result in the government takeover of private schools.

Quade, Quentin, Financing Education: The Struggle Between Governmental Monopoly and Parental Control, Transaction Publishers, 1996.

     This is an argument in favor of ending what the late Quade (he passed away in 1999) calls the educational finance monopoly, or EFM. EFM, he shows, is the cause of most of education’s ills. Quade discusses the voucher alternative. He describes the systems in both Holland and Denmark, where the voucher system is the norm. He is in favor of a similar system for the U.S., and describes the advantages of these two systems. What he leaves out is that in both Denmark and Holland, the voucher system has not led to freedom of education, because, as privatizers fear over here, the state has taken over the private schools through regulation of teacher hiring, curriculum standards, testing, teacher certification, etc. (for more information, read Andrew Coulson's Market Education). Quentin Quade was a devout Catholic who worked tirelessly for religious education. His idea of breaking up EFM is consistent with his goals, but a voucher system a la Denmark or Holland is not.

Moo, Greg, Power Grab: How the National Education Association is Betraying Our Children, Regnery Publishing, 1999.

     Greg Moo is a former teacher and high school principal who knows the system from the inside out, and is not afraid to talk about it.  He says, "The NEA's goals are two: first, to create one national system of education and second, to control this national system to its own ultra-liberal ends." He then proceeds to flesh out the details of how NEA operatives "control local control," using Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals as their manual, spend millions and millions of dollars promoting a radicalized curriculum, socialized health insurance, abortion, birth control clinics in schools and other ultra-liberal causes, but fighting to the death any meaningful reforms like merit pay, repeal of tenure, or parental involvement. Samuel Blumenfeld and Myron Lieberman have also written exposes of the NEA which corroborate what he says.

Sowell, Thomas, Inside American Education: The Decline, The Deception, The Dogmas, The Free Press, 1993.

     Thomas Sowell, of the Hoover Institution, is one of the most respected scholars in America today. If you are uneasy about the public schools, and are almost afraid to find out about them, do not expect Thomas Sowell to allay your fears. As the title makes clear, he will not. He is another author that will make you want to take your child out of government schools immediately if you possible can. He corroborates what other authors say about the radicalized agenda that is being used on your child, i.e., multiculturalism which is neither multi-nor cultural, but instead a viscious denigration of the Western tradition; brainwashing techniques which inculcate the radicalized curriculum and then tests students to see if they have the "correct" attitudes; ideological double standards that allow "ideologically correct" students to get away with infringements of rules, but not those who disagree; teachers who cheat in order to get their students' test scores up higher; and other deceptions and dogmas. And the way to improve education is to raise teachers' salaries (Gag!).

Eakman, Beverly E., The Cloning of the American Mind:  The Eradication of Morality Through Education, Huntington House Publishers, 1998.

     Eakman is another former teacher who spent nine years in the public system, and feels compelled to tell the story of what is really going on. Her book is one of the most disturbing books I have ever read. Eakman describes, in clear detail, how various groups use the public schools for exploitative and diabolical purposes.  Diabolical? Isn't that too strong a word? No. When people who stand to benefit surreptitiously and illegally manipulate the minds of innocent children against the wishes of their parents in order to elicit certain attitudes and behaviors, and then use secret measurements of those attitudes for or against them, depending on their "correctness," I call that exploitative and diabolical. But this is just the beginning. In this book you will learn about the "illiteracy cartel," the use of computers and testing of kids to compile huge databases on kids and parents, the Frankfurt School that spawned so much of the radical literature that has been poisoning our culture since the 30's, the private foundations who fund the socialist and fascist "studies" that are then fed to "change agents" in the Department of Education and teacher's unions, and much more. Eakman is another author who advocates independent schools that refuse to take government money.

Blumenfeld, Samuel, Is Public Education Necessary? The Paradigm Company, 1989.

     Blumenfeld is an eloquent author who has done extensive homework, digging into many original documents to tell the story of how government schools got started in America. I found this book to be a fascinating chronicle in the history of ideas, as well as an argument for freedom of education. Blumenfeld goes into the religious roots of the ideas behind compulsory schooling and the lives of the originators. Who was Robert Owen, and how did he influence America? He invented socialism even before Marx, and tried experiments which failed in both Scotland and New Harmony, Indiana. Blumenfeld shows that a coalition of three groups allowed compulsory attendance at government schools to get started in America: Harvard Unitarians like Horace Mann, other Owenite educationists who wanted more pay and status for themselves, and Protestants who wanted to "Protestantize" the Catholic immigrants coming in in the 1850's. Most people were happy with private education, and there was 95% literacy at that time. But Horace Mann and company sold the newly invented militaristic, secularized, pro-statist Prussian education system to the American public as a panacea that would cure all society's ills, including crime and alcoholism. Well, we have hindsight now. Some have known for a long time that monopolized, socialist schooling does not cure all ills. It causes a lot of them.

Strickland, Guy, Bad Teachers: The Essential Guide for Concerned Parents, Pocket Books, 1998.

     This is written by a teacher for parents, so they will know what to do when their child is assigned a bad teacher, which is inevitable, considering that it is almost impossible to fire any government teacher. Author Strickland says that the "entire entrenched bureaucracy defends its incompetent teachers with a myriad of weapons, including codes of silence, labor unions and contracts, stonewalling, and stalling maneuvers."  Naturally, parents and kids lose out unless they know what they are up against and have a strategy to deal with this unfortunate situation. Strickland offers an inside look at the government school system, and offers helpful advice for conscientious parents.

National Review Magazine, Special Education Issue, September 13, 1999.

      This has several good articles on the reading wars, racial preferences, evolution, sex education, and NR’s recommended schools. The article critical of sex education in public schools is especially good.

Toby, Jackson, “Obsessive Compulsion: The folly of mandatory high-school attendance,” National Review Magazine, June 28, 1999.

     In this article, the case against mandatory high school attendance is made. One main point is that many attending high school these days are “internal drop-outs,” meaning they are present physically but not mentally.

Reviewed by Kathleen Melonakos, 2000

Kathleen Melonakos is the mom of three kids, the author of two books, earned a Masters Degree in Liberal Arts at Stanford Univ., and actively supports improved education through parental freedom, responsibility, and community involvement. You can email her by clicking here.