About the Blog

I will post a new entry every few weeks. Some will be new writing and some will be past work that has relevance today. The writing will deal in some way with the themes that have been part of my teaching and writing life for decades:

•teaching and learning;
•educational opportunity;
•the importance of public education in a democracy;
•definitions of intelligence and the many manifestations of intelligence in school, work, and everyday life; and
•the creation of a robust and humane philosophy of education.

If I had to sum up the philosophical thread that runs through my work, it would be this: A deep belief in the ability of the common person, a commitment to educational, occupational, and cultural opportunity to develop that ability, and an affirmation of public institutions and the public sphere as vehicles for nurturing and expressing that ability.

My hope is that this blog will foster an online community that brings people together to continue the discussion.


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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A New Book: Why School?

I just had a new book come out, Why School?: Reclaiming Education for All of Us. The book is a series of thirteen interrelated essays with an introduction and conclusion. In it, I try to bring the topics of my work over the last thirty years to bear on educational policy in our time.

Below, I reprint the Preface and Table of Contents.

I would sure appreciate it if you spread the word. 

Introduction: Why School?

1. In Search of a Fresh Language of Schooling
2. Finding Our Way: The Experience of Education
3. No Child Left Behind and the Spirit of Democratic Education
4. Business Goes to School
5. Reflections on Intelligence in the Workplace and the Schoolhouse
6. On Values, Work, and Opportunity
7. Standards, Teaching, Learning
8. Remediation at the University
9. Re-mediating Remediation
10. Politics and Knowledge
11. Soldiers in the Classroom
12. A Language of Hope
13. Finding the Public Good Through the Details of Classroom Life

Conclusion: The Journey Back and Forward


Why School? comes from a professional lifetime in classrooms, creating and running educational programs, teaching and researching, writing and thinking about education and human development. It offers a series of appeals for big-hearted social policy and an embrace of the ideals of democratic education – from the way we define and structure opportunity to the way we respond to a child adding a column of numbers. Collectively, the chapters provide a bountiful vision of human potential, illustrated through the schoolhouse, the work place, and the community.

We need such appeals, I think, because we have lost our way.

We live in an anxious age and seek our grounding, our assurances in ways that don’t satisfy our longing—that, in fact, make things worse. We’ve lost hope in the public sphere and grab at private solutions, which undercut the sharing of obligation and risk and keep us scrambling for individual advantage. We’ve narrowed the purpose of schooling to economic competitiveness, our kids becoming economic indicators. We’ve reduced our definition of human development and achievement – that miraculous growth of intelligence, sensibility, and the discovery of the world – to a test score. Though we pride ourselves as a nation of opportunity and a second chance, our social policies have become terribly ungenerous. We rush to embrace the new – in work, in goods, in the language we use to describe our problems—yet long for tradition, for craft, for the touch of earth, wood, another hand.

We do live in uncertain and unsettling times, but one can imagine all sorts of responses, and we have been taking—and have been led to take—those that are fear-based, inhumane, less than noble. We yearn for more and as a society deserve better. This yearning was one of the forces that drove the election of Barack Obama.

My hope is that the contents of this book in some small way contribute to a reinvigorated discussion of why we educate in America, maybe through a particular story, maybe because of information I can provide from my own teaching and research, maybe from a perspective that provides a different way to see.


  1. I especially like the thought: "We live in an anxious age and seek our grounding, our assurances, in ways that don’t satisfy our longing" and wonder if the longing to which you refer is our primal need to BEcome human? There is certainly no room for this, but I worry that there will be no room allowed because once a person actively begins to become a strong human being, she loses interest in consuming. Hmmm. What marks do you give Obama so far? I'm afraid his educational stance looks an awful lot like Bush.


  3. Mike - we're happy to see your new book out and happy to help spread the word. Hopefully, this is OK with you: http://www.mikeroweworks.com/2009/09/why-school-by-mike-rose/

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  5. Mike!

    I've been thinking a lot about why we even need school. After all, isn't education all around us in every facet of life? John Dewey certainly believed this, since for him, to be human means that we are continuously being educated in some capacity.

    Yet, as I'm reading a lecture given by Lawrence Cremin about John Dewey...what you write about in this new book made me have one of those "uh huh" moments -- an epiphany.

    According to Dewey, the education that exists in our every day lives is "incidental" and the education that is found in schools is "intentional." And I don't think incidental to him meant, minor and unimportant...I'm hoping it means based on incidents, or experiences, that just happen in life.

    I'm no fan of polarities and dichotomies, and I don't think Dewey really does say any form of education is better than the other.

    Yet, I do think it's important for us to realize that education, depending on different settings, can be a mix between being passive and active, incidental and intentional, enlightening and unenlightening...

    What's so amazing about you and this book is that you address the importance of discussing and understanding the purpose of education (specifically in schools). We need to recognize the fact that education is valuable in the holistic sense (not valuable in the let's put a dollar value on it), that school ought to be intentional...that it does affect lives.

    So what do I mean by intentional? And what should school be intended to do? Hmmm I'm still working on that.

    Thus...I'm excited to read your book in book-form since I know it'll help me figure out what schools can and perhaps should look like...and what they're intended to do for individuals and society as a whole.

  6. Mike,
    I can't wait to read this one! My students loved Lives on the Boundary. I will spread the word.

  7. Dear Mike,

    I've just ordered the book. From comments of American educators, I know it is another wonderfull piece of work.
    I start spreanding the word here in Brazil.
    Grande abra├žo, Jarbas

  8. I read a glowing reference to your new book at the Meier/Ravich blog "Bridging Differences". I went immediately to Amazon and bought it, though I was sorry to see that it wasn't available for the Kindle.

    While I'm only on page 29, I can tell from the outline you presented that this is a gem. Having spent some time with George Lakoff (linguist), I too have been wondering about the language around schools, particularly the metaphors. I think the schema you set forth in the introduction is right on the money. I'm looking forward to reading your words slowly, as they are rich invitations to reflection.

    Thank you for your work.

  9. I am reading your book, Why School? for a class that I am taking for my BA in elementary education. So far, I have enjoyed every chapter of the book. (I am almost finished with the book)I specifically like the chapter on intelligence in the workplace and in school. I agree that some people look down on blue-collar workers. I feel that some people think that these workers are not educated, but that is not the case. We learn from all kinds of everyday tasks. Learning is all around us and although I am a fan of educating our people in formal education, that is not the only way to learn. I could write more on every chapter, but chose to write just a thought on this chapter. Thanks for yur thoughts and I look forward to reading the rest of the book.