Book Review: Public Schools are Archaic by Dr. M. R. Ussery

I read the title of this offering and had to have it. I’m currently finishing up the last few semesters of my MAT (Masters of Arts in Teaching), which is why I haven’t been blogging as much as I would like, and the subject is near and dear to my heart. As I read the book, I found myself in agreement with many of Dr. Ussery’s points about modern education. We do need to teach students things they actually need to know after they leave school — one of my great frustrations with standards-based education is that the folks making up the standards are convinced that every student will be going on to college, and that just isn’t true. If Johnny isn’t going on to college, he doesn’t need to be able to identify the theme of The Grapes of Wrath, or note the historical basis for Shakespeare’s Hamlet (both assignments that I did in high school) or anything like that. He needs to be able to read, to know that there is enjoyment in reading. Beyond that, Johnny needs to be able to fill out a job application and file his taxes — things that many high school honors students aren’t able to do upon graduation (my wife had to teach a 22 year old college senior how to use the check register in his checkbook, for example). We teach far too many things that are wonderful to know, but have no practical worth at all for someone who is not pursuing higher education. It pains me to say that, because I am in fact a good source for all sorts of useless knowledge. I love learning — it is both a gift and a curse. But the fact is that not everyone has that desire, and not everybody has the need to know.

I also agree with Dr. Ussery’s idea of the use of multimedia in education. I’m hoping that as publishers begin working with Apple to produce content for the iPad, and as other manufacturers begin creating their own hardware, that we will see this happening more and more in education. We talk a lot about Gardner’s multiple intelligences in education — multimedia will help us teach to most, if not all, of those intelligences. I agree with what the good doctor is advocating here.

But I fall far short of recommending this book, unfortunately. The author has an EdD in educational technology, and is credited with “more than a hundred scripts for info and training films,” but this book does not show it. There are no citations of any research studies done; in fact, at one point the reader is told that if they are interested, the should do a Google search for the topic and they will find “hundreds of studies” — none of which are cited in the two-page chapter on research. The book is barely 50 pages long; if written in a Word document, I wonder if it would be 10 pages. I know that if I turned something like this in for my MAT program, I would not receive a good grade on it. The lack of citations makes me wonder if there is a reason that the programs the author recommends are not being done — we don’t hear of any research in favor OR opposed. There’s no study of prevailing literature on the topic, and I know there is plenty of it.
I was actually a bit offended at the author’s assertion that modern schools try to teach every student the same way every year. Every lesson plan I’ve written, including during my time in the classroom as a teacher in a suburban Atlanta high school, had to include some consideration of how to incorporate multiple intelligences in the lesson. I’ve worked in four different schools, and each one has advocated the use of Gardner’s theories to one degree or another. Ussery’s assertions fell short for me there.

I agree that we need to fix our schools. I agree that the public school system is in need of an overhaul. And I agree that we now have the technological means to revolutionize education, if we only have the courage to do it. But there must be a more well written and better researched book advocating a plan of attack than this. I heartily endorse Ussery’s ideas, but I cannot recommend his book.

If you would like to read it for yourself, it is available on Amazon. I get a quarter if you buy it using that link.

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