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It’s one thing we all have in common. We’ve all been to school. But as Zander Sherman shows in this fascinating, often shocking account of institutionalized education, sending your kids off to school was not always normal. In fact, school is a very recent invention. Taking the reader back to 19th-century Prussia, where generals, worried about soldiers’ troubling individual It’s one thing we all have in common. We’ve all been to school. But as Zander Sherman shows in this fascinating, often shocking account of institutionalized education, sending your kids off to school was not always normal. In fact, school is a very recent invention. Taking the reader back to 19th-century Prussia, where generals, worried about soldiers’ troubling individuality, sought a way to standardize every young man of military age, through to the most controversial debates about the topic of education today, Sherman tells the often astonishing stories of the men and women—and corporations—that have defined what we have come to think of as both the privilege and the responsibility of being educated. With clarity, detachment, and wry humour, Sherman presents the story of school through the stories of its most influential—and peculiar—reformers. We learn that Montessori schools were embraced by Mussolini's Italy, that the founder of Ryerson University was a champion of the Canadian residential school system (for which the government apologized a century and a half later), and that Harvard was once a byword for mediocrity. Along the way, we discover that the SAT was invented as an intelligence test designed to allow the state to sterilize “imbeciles” and in its current state is perhaps equally pernicious, that suicide in the wake of disappointing results in the state university placement exams is the fifth leading cause of death in China, and that commercialized higher education seduces students into debt as cynically as credit card companies do. Provocative, entertaining—and even educational—The Curiosity of School lays bare the forces that shape the institution that shapes all of us.


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It’s one thing we all have in common. We’ve all been to school. But as Zander Sherman shows in this fascinating, often shocking account of institutionalized education, sending your kids off to school was not always normal. In fact, school is a very recent invention. Taking the reader back to 19th-century Prussia, where generals, worried about soldiers’ troubling individual It’s one thing we all have in common. We’ve all been to school. But as Zander Sherman shows in this fascinating, often shocking account of institutionalized education, sending your kids off to school was not always normal. In fact, school is a very recent invention. Taking the reader back to 19th-century Prussia, where generals, worried about soldiers’ troubling individuality, sought a way to standardize every young man of military age, through to the most controversial debates about the topic of education today, Sherman tells the often astonishing stories of the men and women—and corporations—that have defined what we have come to think of as both the privilege and the responsibility of being educated. With clarity, detachment, and wry humour, Sherman presents the story of school through the stories of its most influential—and peculiar—reformers. We learn that Montessori schools were embraced by Mussolini's Italy, that the founder of Ryerson University was a champion of the Canadian residential school system (for which the government apologized a century and a half later), and that Harvard was once a byword for mediocrity. Along the way, we discover that the SAT was invented as an intelligence test designed to allow the state to sterilize “imbeciles” and in its current state is perhaps equally pernicious, that suicide in the wake of disappointing results in the state university placement exams is the fifth leading cause of death in China, and that commercialized higher education seduces students into debt as cynically as credit card companies do. Provocative, entertaining—and even educational—The Curiosity of School lays bare the forces that shape the institution that shapes all of us.

30 review for The Curiosity of School: Education and the Dark Side of Enlightenment

  1. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    It's funny that when I borrowed this book from my school's library, the employee who saw my book choice just said "School?" as if it was the most boring subject in the world to actually read about. As it turns out, school has quite the strange history, and it really began with Prussia in the 1800's, originally used as a means of training soldiers. The idea was to strip students of their individuality and turn them into obedient citizens who would later become soldiers, and then workers when there It's funny that when I borrowed this book from my school's library, the employee who saw my book choice just said "School?" as if it was the most boring subject in the world to actually read about. As it turns out, school has quite the strange history, and it really began with Prussia in the 1800's, originally used as a means of training soldiers. The idea was to strip students of their individuality and turn them into obedient citizens who would later become soldiers, and then workers when there were times of peace. Sherman says in the introduction to his book that his intent was to present the information about schooling without a thesis, but it's pretty obvious as you'll go through the book that he has a clear point to argue. He even states this point near the end of the book- schooling in general does not often accomplish what it sets out to do. And that simple yet elusive goal is to provide an education. Sherman presents a very well-thought-out summary of various issues in schooling, such as the comparison of private and public schooling, standardized tests and so forth. Some of the stuff he mentions is absolutely incredible, such as a pretty pointed attack on the Maclean's magazine university rankings. The history is fascinating, though the book is weakened a little bit by the ending as Sherman attempts to illustrate the effect on lack of education. One such line: "In the nineteenth century, popular books included Wuthering Heights, Sense and Sensibility and The Picture of Dorian Gray. By the twenty-first, it was The Hunger Games, Twilight and Harry Potter. They are indeed popular books, but they haven't been the only ones. And most people will probably agree that people are stupider in this day and age, but contrasting this technlogy-laden age with two hundred years ago doesn't completely illustrate the lack of education as well as Sherman seems to think it does. Still, the book is really interesting to read if you're curious about, for example, why the SAT doesn't really predict performance in post-secondary institutions.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kara Babcock

    I have wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. And now I am. This year has been one of reshaping and redefining my identity—I’m no longer preparing to be a teacher, because I am one. Suddenly I’m frequenting staff rooms, going to meetings, filling out reports, and enforcing rules. I’m plugged into this system that is much larger than I am; it’s a sprawling behemoth of cogs, levers, and twisted chains of cause and effect that has sunk its roots deep into society. I love being a teac I have wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. And now I am. This year has been one of reshaping and redefining my identity—I’m no longer preparing to be a teacher, because I am one. Suddenly I’m frequenting staff rooms, going to meetings, filling out reports, and enforcing rules. I’m plugged into this system that is much larger than I am; it’s a sprawling behemoth of cogs, levers, and twisted chains of cause and effect that has sunk its roots deep into society. I love being a teacher, and sometimes the system works for me and my students. Other times, though, I’ve been dissatisfied with, disheartened by, or disillusioned by the system and all its attendant goal posts, bureaucratic doublespeak, and cracks through which people can fall. So I was interested in reading The Curiosity of School, in which Zander Sherman explores the origins of compulsory Western education in nineteenth-century Prussia and some of its most recent consequences, such as standardized testing. My teacher training did not actually include much in the way of a “history of education” course … the closest we came was an overview of some the peculiarities of education in Ontario in our Educational Law class. I feel that it’s rather important to understand why our schools are the way they are, and to question whether there are alternatives—but there’s no point in doing the latter unless you’re aware of what alternatives have already been considered and tried, and whether they did any good or not. There’s plenty I like about schools these days, but there is also a lot that should change. The first chapter is an interesting recounting of how several powerful individuals imported the Prussian system of compulsory education into the United States (and then to Canada). In essence, this means that compulsory public education has its origins in the military-industrial complex. Oppression and colonialism have been a part of it from the beginning. Sherman discusses the establishment of residential schools in Canada and the United States, including the involvement of the founder of Ryerson University. This is merely one of the most notable examples of how compulsory education has been used to indoctrinate and assimilate; it is not the most recent. Though there were times, I admit, where the sheer oddness of the bigotry reflected in quotations throughout this book made me smile wryly, I’m aware that we are by no means perfect ourselves these days. I really took note in the second chapter, “The Test, and What It’s On”. Sherman tracks the emergence of the American SATs (once known as Scholastic Aptitude Tests, but now strangely meaningless as an acronym) from the intelligence assessments and IQ tests of old. I was aware of the association of IQ tests with racism, but the extent of their ties to eugenics wasn’t clear (and I think that Canadian and American history downplays how prevalent eugenics was in society, on account of that whole uncomfortable Nazi thing). I didn’t know about the link between SATs and IQ tests, though. Sherman uses the confusion and controversy over this link and the meaningless nature of the SAT’s name to question why it remains a standard for college admissions in the United States. The fast-paced evolution of digital technology has led to a rise in data-driven culture and this idea that both individuals and companies should want to track people’s habits, that more data is within our grasp than ever before. Sometimes we forget that some companies have already been doing this for a long time. In particular, he singles out one of the providers of the SAT, the Educational Testing Service, or ETS. I was interested to learn that ETS produces a staggering number of tests: “in practical terms, you cannot become a firefighter, police officer, marine, naval officer, soldier, librarian, travel agent, realtor, mechanic, golf instructor, barber, or beautician without taking an ETS test”. Now, that in itself might not be disturbing. What’s disturbing is that “factual errors went unchecked”, according to MIT professor Les Perelman. So not only does the United States employ a standardized test for college admissions, the test itself is meaningless as an indicator of intelligence or anything else. My prior dislike of standardized testing is coming through strongly now, I suspect. So, perhaps it is no surprise that this chapter resonated with me; it’s nice to have some specific examples of why standardized testing, at least as it is currently implemented in the United States, doesn’t achieve the goals it’s supposed to achieve. Canada has its share of standardized tests too, though they are fewer and farther between. The corruption of education by the interests of capitalism and corporations continues to be a theme throughout The Curiosity of School. Sherman returns to it in chapter 4: “The Corporate Equation“. He discusses how various prestigious universities make deals with corporations, such as pharmaceutical companies: in return for funding, the university signs over the patent rights to any inventions or breakthroughs from its labs. Sherman points out the problems this can cause for academic freedom, not to mention scientific bias. This chapter reminded me a lot of Selling Sickness , particularly the anecdote about Nancy Olivieri, who blew the whistle on drug trials being performed at the University of Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and was fired for her troubles. In the second half of the book, Sherman shifts from the history of Western education in general to analyzing aspects of education, from private schooling and other alternative models to the changing opinions of what education should do for students. He discusses Montessori and Waldorf schools, as well as just the more generic idea of private school, concluding that “private schools select privileged students and, with them, create privileged people”. Although I am intrigued by Montessori, Waldorf, homeschooling, and private schooling, my allegiance has always been to the ideal of public education. There is so much that is broken about our public system, but it rests upon the fundamental promise that education should be accessible to everyone. Elite, private institutions are an aberration, and while alternative regimes like Montessori are not necessarily inaccessible, clearly they haven’t become mainstream despite their presence throughout the world. Sherman devotes some time to analyzing the Finnish model of education. According to the metrics he cites, such as the Programme for International Student Assessment, Finland’s students rank highly in every category, coming out first place in reading, math, and science. He then points out a correlation: the Finnish government pays for education from kindergarten to university; Finnish children start school later and can drop out earlier, if they choose; teachers are more respected and students also seem to receive more freedom and respect in return. Sherman is positively head-over-heels about the Finnish system—and, I can understand why. I’m a little envious of how supportive Scandinavian countries are of their teachers! (He also claims that Finland has no private schools. A quick glance at Wikipedia—with citations—shows that this is not correct, though private schools operate somewhat differently than they do elsewhere in the world.) Nevertheless, I find this optimism about the possibility of adopting the system wholesale in countries like Canada and the United States rather unsophisticated. He laments that all it would take is a willingness to pay more taxes. Leaving aside the fact that, at least in the United States, that’s never going to fly, Finland benefits from a population of only 5.4 million people. Canada’s is 6 times that, and the United states is an order of magnitude larger still. The infrastructure alone doesn’t necessarily scale. Still, Sherman has a point when he lauds the philosophy of lifelong learning present in Finland. I’d like to see that imported into Canada. It’s present in certain respects, but there is still an emphasis on “getting through” education and on “getting a degree” so that one can go out into the world. Even I fell into that trap, in the sense that I focused on obtaining exactly the credentials I require for teaching. I like to think that I am continuing to learn—as my occasional foray into meatier books like this might suggest—but I’m not exactly typical of my demographic…. Towards the end of the book, Sherman throws in a rather low blow when it comes to cultural literacy: In the nineteenth century, popular books included Wuthering Heights, Sense and Sensibility, and The Picture of Dorian Gray. By the twenty-first, it was The Hunger Games, Twilight, and Harry Potter…. The fifteenth prime minister of Canada, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, was a renown intellectual, poised extemporaneous speaker, and wide reader; its twenty-second prime minister, Stephen Harper, didn’t once respond to Yann Martel’s four-year-long campaign to get him to read a single book. Firstly, Sherman isn’t telling the full story when he claims that a book like Wuthering Heights was the pinnacle of popularity: it had its ups and downs after its initial publication, and it was a controversial book for its time. It’s only now that it has become a classic, and hence a signpost of nineteenth-century literature. Secondly, I’m not going to argue that The Hunger Games or Twilight are better, in any way, than Wuthering Heights. but it’s disingenuous to suggest that the same books that were popular nearly two hundred years ago should be popular with the majority of society today. If that were the case, it would imply that our culture is changeless and stagnant. The fact that the majority of popular books of today aren’t of superior literary quality might be alarming, but it’s beside the point Sherman is failing to make here. Finally, I followed Yann Martel’s four-year project called “What is Stephen Harper Reading?”. It was an awesome stunt, but it was a stunt. Stephen Harper is a busy dude, what with running a country, and he doesn’t have time to read or even acknowledge personally every single book someone sends him. I don’t agree with many (or even most) of his actions and positions, particularly when it comes to how he and his party treat artists and the arts. Again, though, Sherman is being hyperbolic when he implies that this does not bode well for Harper’s reading. I’m sure Harper reads—I’m not sure what, maybe Twilight, but for all I know it’s Wuthering Heights. Curse you, Zander Sherman, for putting me in a position where I feel obligated to defend Stephen Harper! Other interesting tidbits: in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, one method of corporal punishment involved burning students with magnifying glasses, and another entailed threatening them with eternal damnation (somehow I don’t think that one would work so well these days). The Curiosity of School is packed with interesting information and thoughtful discourse. In particular, I like how Sherman, as a Canadian, spends time discussing both American and Canadian education. Unfortunately, the book suffers from a lack of focus and no clear central thesis. In the epilogue, Sherman recounts a personal story that seems to champion his own homeschooling background. However, the rest of the book is far from a condemnation of public school and an endorsement of home school. It’s fair to say that The Curiosity of School does a good job illuminating certain aspects of compulsory education, including some that don’t get discussed much. I wish that Sherman had been able to construct a more unified narrative from his research. Speaking of research, Sherman also declines to cite specific sources. In lieu of a traditional bibliography with proper endnotes, at the end of the book he provides a list of selected sources for each chapter, “so that others may re-create a similar picture should they wish”. This omission detracts from the book’s otherwise academic atmosphere. It relies a great deal on statistics and other specific information that really should be cited. Because he does not cite sources, it’s difficult to give credence to some of what Sherman says. Though I agree with many of his critiques of education, it’s difficult for me to point to specific facts that he mentions. As a first-year teacher, I’m still struggling to find my new identity and find my way around education. It will be years, maybe even a decade, before I can start to understand how I can best serve my students—and that’s what education is for. It’s not a means to train soldiers, to build perfect workers. It’s a careful balancing act between inculcating individuality and cultivating civic virtues. It requires a strong, funded, confident system that nevertheless somehow manages to embrace creativity and lifelong learning. In many ways, that system is broken, and I wonder how successful I, as one fairly inexperienced teacher, can be in administering education under such a regime. But it’s too big a problem to do much about on my own. All I can do is keep teaching, keep learning, and contributing where I can. So I enjoyed The Curiosity of School, if only because of how neatly it dovetails with a lot of the topics I am considering as they apply to my profession. I would still recommend it for non-teachers, particularly for anyone interested in education—which should be everyone! It doesn’t quite meet the standards of writing or research to make it awesome, but it presents a good mixture of history, philosophy, and argument to make it worthwhile and engaging.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rhys

    An interesting book about the advent of the Prussian System of public education in North America. "Perhaps that’s because, for almost two hundred years, the Prussian system has engineered students to be things, not people. At the hands of churches, armies, governments, and corporations, school has sought to turn it students into priests, soldiers, citizens, and workers. With each reformer, and each reform, there has always been an agenda, always a purpose, a point, a motive. No matter the organiz An interesting book about the advent of the Prussian System of public education in North America. "Perhaps that’s because, for almost two hundred years, the Prussian system has engineered students to be things, not people. At the hands of churches, armies, governments, and corporations, school has sought to turn it students into priests, soldiers, citizens, and workers. With each reformer, and each reform, there has always been an agenda, always a purpose, a point, a motive. No matter the organization, third party, or special interest group, the idea has been to look at what is needed and then make sure school manufactures the intended result. The idea has been to focus on what students can do, their end benefit to society, their value as human capital" (p.334).

  4. 5 out of 5

    Samantha Clysdale

    I recommend this book for anyone who wishes to work with children in a school setting.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I'm left with an unsettling feeling. In Canada the push towards Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in school is driven by companies who need employees in these areas. This means that emphasis is put on success in these areas. (Above creativity, and love of learning of course). And now I feel a little jaded - are eBooks the blending of Technology and literacy? Is it merely a side effect of this emphasis on STEM? Does all literacy now have to incorporate some aspect of STEM t I'm left with an unsettling feeling. In Canada the push towards Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in school is driven by companies who need employees in these areas. This means that emphasis is put on success in these areas. (Above creativity, and love of learning of course). And now I feel a little jaded - are eBooks the blending of Technology and literacy? Is it merely a side effect of this emphasis on STEM? Does all literacy now have to incorporate some aspect of STEM to be of value? I fear it is a 'what came first' type question. Is it a technological world and companies have arisen to fill a need or do they drive the need? Is it a feedback loop? One of the sections that come back to me is this: "When schools stopped teaching Greek and Latin, high literacy began to fall. When schools started teaching shop and home ec, low literacy began to rise. When a middle class was needed, there were schools for the general public, and when an upper class was needed, there were schools for a privileged few. When universities needed money they went to corporations, who gave it to them in exchange for science. When science was applied to learning, knowledge became information, and wisdom was history." And then you couple it with this one: "This is the problem with school in a nutshell. Education has no external purpose because is IS purpose. It's a good unto itself. It's probably unfair to blame Prussia for ruining all formalized education, but if we want to identify the moment when education became viewed as good only so long as it was USEFUL - to armies, to governments, to corporations - Prussia was it. With the advent of the Prussian system, education was acceptable only if it had a point. It had to go somewhere, it had to lead to something. Education for its own sake was forbidden, and as a result, curiosity - and the pleasure of learning - were repressed." And now I'm depressed. The moral of this story: Find a way to be born in Finland.

  6. 5 out of 5

    H Wesselius

    Many years ago at my first student teaching placement at a fairly upper middle class school, I marveled at the way the children obediently lined up, how complaint they were and that it was now my job to ensure that this happened. My new occupation -- turning youth into useful middle class (or working class) drones. I often refer to my profession as 1/3 teaching, 1/3 babysitting and 1/3 prison guard. In looking at the modern history of school, Sherman has confirmed my suspicions. An interesting a Many years ago at my first student teaching placement at a fairly upper middle class school, I marveled at the way the children obediently lined up, how complaint they were and that it was now my job to ensure that this happened. My new occupation -- turning youth into useful middle class (or working class) drones. I often refer to my profession as 1/3 teaching, 1/3 babysitting and 1/3 prison guard. In looking at the modern history of school, Sherman has confirmed my suspicions. An interesting and quick read, Sherman discuss the military and school, the corporation and school, the student loan industry, the testing industry, punishment, and much more. And in doing so, he confirms my cynicism. The Prussian model of regimented student behavior assisted the corporations and the military for complaint mass involvement. Once higher education become a common experience, it was quickly commodified and made a product to be marketed and exploited. Education then is not the central concern of our schools but rather producing a certain type of individual and at the college/university level making money off of them. For the most part, I think older students realize this and play the game working only for a piece of paper that entitles to a profession. My only problem was his critique of the teaching profession which appears to be reliant on anecdotes told by one teacher. Teachers may be part of the system but most are there not because they approve of the system but because the profession appeals to them individually -- they enjoy helping kids grow up and learn. Most ignore the larger picture Sherman presents and focus on the small picture -- individual kids on a day by day basis.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    This is without a doubt the worst book I have read in many years. As a longtime fan of Sir Ken Robinson and his argument that "school" as an institution crushes creativity and curiosity (http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson...), I was very much looking forward to reading The Curiosity of School. I was profoundly disappointed. Perhaps everyone SHOULD read this book, if only to consider how important editors are. The book is astonishingly poorly written, structured, and "edited"--although I doubt This is without a doubt the worst book I have read in many years. As a longtime fan of Sir Ken Robinson and his argument that "school" as an institution crushes creativity and curiosity (http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson...), I was very much looking forward to reading The Curiosity of School. I was profoundly disappointed. Perhaps everyone SHOULD read this book, if only to consider how important editors are. The book is astonishingly poorly written, structured, and "edited"--although I doubt it WAS edited. There is a flimsy excuse about why it does not cite sources, but the very nature of such a project REQUIRES citations. Reading it was the most disappointing and frustrating experience of my adult reading life. It is so full of factual errors, logical inconsistencies, and grammatical mistakes as to be essentially unreadable. The book is totally incoherent, with no clear thesis. It's really nothing more than an exercise in self-congratulation--in fact, that's the climax/conclusion to which it inevitably stumbles. As a vanity self-published effort, it might be acceptable. The fact that it was published by a supposedly reputable publisher is appalling. Spare yourself. Do NOT read this book! Avoid it at all costs. Instead, watch Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk and engage in your own critical thinking about the education system.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Siobhan

    The prevailing feeling I had while reading this provocative, wonderful, and somewhat terrifying (unedited manuscript) book was, "But my children have already completed high school! Have I done them a great disservice by trusting public education in Canada?" Thank you, thank you Mr Sherman for this enlightening look at what government, military, and corporate interests have put into motion and continue to this day. Without this comprehensive background information, we would not know how fundament The prevailing feeling I had while reading this provocative, wonderful, and somewhat terrifying (unedited manuscript) book was, "But my children have already completed high school! Have I done them a great disservice by trusting public education in Canada?" Thank you, thank you Mr Sherman for this enlightening look at what government, military, and corporate interests have put into motion and continue to this day. Without this comprehensive background information, we would not know how fundamental the change has to be. I will be passing this book on to everyone I know who is willing to have their eyes opened, including a number of teachers who need to know what they have been a part of and how they have been used.

  9. 5 out of 5

    M

    I’ve just finished reading Sherman’s The Curiosity of School, and I must give credit where credit is due. Not only is his book provocative and educational, but it imparted upon me an overwhelming sense of horror. If I ever have children, I’m either going to home school them, or pack my bags and move to Finland. I STRONGLY recommend this book to anyone working in the field education, especially teachers, but also, this should be a must-read for everyone; we need to properly understand what has and I’ve just finished reading Sherman’s The Curiosity of School, and I must give credit where credit is due. Not only is his book provocative and educational, but it imparted upon me an overwhelming sense of horror. If I ever have children, I’m either going to home school them, or pack my bags and move to Finland. I STRONGLY recommend this book to anyone working in the field education, especially teachers, but also, this should be a must-read for everyone; we need to properly understand what has and continues to influence the education system that plays such an integral role in our lives. Thank you to the Goodreads' First Reads program for selecting me to read and review this book!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sheila

    I enjoyed reading the history of education. There were some parts that were slower to get through but overall a good read.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Joy Dube

    Enjoyed the very readable historical review of education in the Western World, and the update on American education in particular. Loved the contrast with the Finnish model of education -- something that is in direct contrast to our capitalist and market-driven agenda for education which is very important for understanding where we are heading.... I have always advocated for the teaching of Latin as I found it the key to unlocking English, French and Spanish, and made dictionary use almost redun Enjoyed the very readable historical review of education in the Western World, and the update on American education in particular. Loved the contrast with the Finnish model of education -- something that is in direct contrast to our capitalist and market-driven agenda for education which is very important for understanding where we are heading.... I have always advocated for the teaching of Latin as I found it the key to unlocking English, French and Spanish, and made dictionary use almost redundant during my early schooling. Unlocking languages, enjoying learning, learning history, math, science for the pleasure of learning -- a radical concept, and sorely needed. Thanks for this great read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    guiltlessreader

    Originally posted on my blog Guiltless Reading Let me say right off that I didn't finish the book (I reached page 321 out of 352 - or approximately 91% according to Goodreads - which is 30 pages shy of completing it). While I didn't finish it, I do intend to, but for some reason I broke my momentum with this and it's a little difficult to get my head into the game again. You can tell right away by the many stickies that I found this book rather fascinating. It is an extremely ambitious book, cover Originally posted on my blog Guiltless Reading Let me say right off that I didn't finish the book (I reached page 321 out of 352 - or approximately 91% according to Goodreads - which is 30 pages shy of completing it). While I didn't finish it, I do intend to, but for some reason I broke my momentum with this and it's a little difficult to get my head into the game again. You can tell right away by the many stickies that I found this book rather fascinating. It is an extremely ambitious book, covering the history of institutionalized education from the 19th century to the present. I discovered some really interesting things about the roots of education, always interesting, some downright creepy and sinister. Standardization of education with roots in Nazi training? SATs and other tests a huge money-making machine? The now prestigious Harvard once synonymous with mediocrity? Are university/school rankings total garbage? Fascinating stuff which got me questioning and wondering quite a lot of things that we tend to accept without question; a mark of a good provoking read! I figure that I was inclined to the subject matter in the first place. I have been interested in education in general, coming from a culture and a family that values education highly. I also had to take some education courses in school at some point. When I was looking up schools for the little one, I was looking at the various philosophies so Montessori and Waldorf weren't totally alien to me. But there's the rub -- if you're looking for a readable Malcolm Gladwell, this one tries really hard but doesn't quite make it. (Plus a warning that this book is about 350 pages, so it does me a bit of investment in reading time) I think the reason that he lost me is that this book covers so much ground, and it also tends to meander here and there. And while Sherman tries to wrap things up with a little bow in the end, the book isn't as tight as it could be. There is also a lot of tongue-in-cheek humour, which could get lost on many, or may come across as snide sometimes. I found this book very Western and European focused, with special attention to the US and Canada. While it makes some reference to India and China (mainly about the pressures of getting into good schools), I kept thinking about the long tradition of learning and scholarship in ancient civilizations. Reference was made in passing ... but how can that not come into play into formal education today? (I am not an educator nor do I claim knowledge about the subject matter ... this is just my personal opinion!) Another issue that I didn't quite sit well with me was that despite this being so obviously well-researched, the text itself made little reference to its sources. So I started questioning some assertions made -- was Sherman referring to the opinions of those he was citing, or were these his assertions? I flipped through the back and the reference list is long and detailed but how the earth am I supposed to connect the dots between the text and that? Verdict: An overall fascinating and thought-provoking read that will challenge many commonly accepted practices and ideas in today's educational system. I have a feeling that my teacher friends would really benefit from this, and it would make an interesting addition to an educator's library. For the curious reader, this one is packed - go for it! I won this book on Goodreads First Reads.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lianne Burwell

    The Curiosity of Schools is a history for the evolution of schooling over (mostly) modern history. It lightly touches on earlier schooling, mainly be the church, but really starts with Prussia after Napoleon conquered the country, and the start of modern institutionalized schooling. In Prussia, the goal was to essentially turn students into secret soldiers so that when the time came, they were instrumental in stopping Napoleon. Countries around the world started immitating their method, and tweak The Curiosity of Schools is a history for the evolution of schooling over (mostly) modern history. It lightly touches on earlier schooling, mainly be the church, but really starts with Prussia after Napoleon conquered the country, and the start of modern institutionalized schooling. In Prussia, the goal was to essentially turn students into secret soldiers so that when the time came, they were instrumental in stopping Napoleon. Countries around the world started immitating their method, and tweaking it for what they want to produce. Mainly, schools are presented as factories. Factories producing soldiers, or laborers, or scientists, depending on the needs of the time. It also covers the alternatives that have come up in response, from a school where the kids are involved in deciding on everything (and generally seen as a place of chaos where the kids run feral) to the Montessori schools and more recents home-schooling and charter schools. It does seem a little ironic that the home-schooling movement was started by an atheist, but most heavily adopted by religous fundamentalists of various types. A chapter is also devoted to private schools versus public, and do they really perform better, or is it just the fact that private school students come from backgrounds that favor doing well to begin with (money, parents with education, expectations). The part I really wanted to read more about was the Finnish school system, where the students do tops in the various international education ratings, even though they have no internal testing, and teachers are left alone. Teachers don't make substantially more than in other countries, but they are highly respected, and there is a lot of competition to become a teacher. The author of this book comes from a home-schooling background, but there doesn't to be heavy bias in his examination. But there are a few points where his opinion breaks through in a way that breaks the flow. Still, a very interesting examination of the education system, and the ways that it really doesn't work to *educated*.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Don

    My thanks to the Author, Publisher, and Goodreads for selecting me to read and review this free promotional Book. A fascinating read. I highly recommend this for people who wonder how our modern school system was developed and where it still may be going. The History of Public Schools & Education should be taught in Grade School instead of the usual completely uninteresting subjects (which seems to be the norm) and this book used as a Primer. Kudos to Finland with the best Educational system on th My thanks to the Author, Publisher, and Goodreads for selecting me to read and review this free promotional Book. A fascinating read. I highly recommend this for people who wonder how our modern school system was developed and where it still may be going. The History of Public Schools & Education should be taught in Grade School instead of the usual completely uninteresting subjects (which seems to be the norm) and this book used as a Primer. Kudos to Finland with the best Educational system on the planet. Years ago, I spoke with one of my old high school teachers (for an article I was writing about 'Computers in the Classroom' cir 1989), and it was agreed that school in itself would be more interesting per say if more 'Life' Classes were taught instead of what the government dictated. Life Classes are truly needed, instilling major Life Skills (fixing the Washer or Car, doing your Taxes, Gardening...) This would create a student who'd be far more knowledgeable with life rather than what is being currently pumped out of our educational factories. If you are a Teacher — do read this Book as it may change your way of thinking in instructing your various classes.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in education reform. It provides insight into the current model of schooling, its original purpose and possible alternatives, or what we believe are alternatives. It was easy to read, unlike some research based texts, and had me thinking about what I believe education's purpose is. It is a must read for teachers, school board members and government policy makers. Understanding how the modern education system developed, and the disconnect th I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in education reform. It provides insight into the current model of schooling, its original purpose and possible alternatives, or what we believe are alternatives. It was easy to read, unlike some research based texts, and had me thinking about what I believe education's purpose is. It is a must read for teachers, school board members and government policy makers. Understanding how the modern education system developed, and the disconnect that has arisen between our idea of what it means to be educated and what students actually learn is important. In some ways it is not about fixing a system, as it is about changing the system itself. If we have no knowledge of the how the system came to be, how can we even think about reforming it?

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kaylee

    The Curiosity of School is informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking, and a great pleasure to read. On the back it says, "This isn't a lecture, it's a conversation," and it really is. It flows easily, and has inspired a lot of further conversation, which looks like it will keep going for a long time. Zander Sherman, if you're reading this, I want to thank you for the conversation. I enjoyed it immensely. The Curiosity of School is informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking, and a great pleasure to read. On the back it says, "This isn't a lecture, it's a conversation," and it really is. It flows easily, and has inspired a lot of further conversation, which looks like it will keep going for a long time. Zander Sherman, if you're reading this, I want to thank you for the conversation. I enjoyed it immensely.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    Sherman has obviously spent a lot of time researching this book, and as a result it is very informative. I liked the depth of his study, but at the same time, I found it hard to plow through some of his chapters.. I particularly enjoyed the section on Finland,and their success. I recommend this read to any educator who finds themselves wondering if there is a better way to educate, and really anyone else who has an interest in the topic of school.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    Interesting history of the school system. I appreciate the fact that the author was partly home schooled and had some experience in standard institutions. I also like the fact that he presented the material in a fairly straightforward manner - he was neither apologetic nor critical of the different systems overall. Interesting read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ron S

    The history of education is far more peculiar than one might imagine. Zander Sherman manages to pack a lot of weirdness into 300 pages, touching on everything from 19th century Prussia to suicides by test takers in China to the controversial background of the SAT. A hugely entertaining, albeit troubling, read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    Like Freakonomics meets Horace Mann. Great read. The Prussians started it all!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Subhadip

  22. 4 out of 5

    Graeme Haynes

  23. 5 out of 5

    Margaret McMaster

  24. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  25. 4 out of 5

    Twainausten

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ingrid Perez

  27. 4 out of 5

    Beth

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sheila

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jace

  30. 5 out of 5

    Leo Robillard

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