Published by Doubleday on February 16, 2016
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration.
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Schools on Trial is an all-in attack on the American way of education and a hopeful blueprint for change by one of the most passionate and certainly youngest writers on this subject.
Are America’s schools little more than cinder-block gulags that spawn vicious cliques and bullying, negate creativity and true learning, and squelch curiosity in their inmates, um, students? Nikhil Goyal—a journalist and activist all of twenty years old, whom The Washington Post has dubbed a “future education secretary” and Forbes has named to its 30 Under 30 list—definitely thinks so. In this book he both offers a scathing indictment of our teach-to-the-test-while-killing-the-spirit educational assembly line and maps out a path for all of our schools to harness children’s natural aptitude for learning by creating an atmosphere conducive to freedom and creativity. He prescribes an inspiring educational future that is thoroughly democratic and experiential, and one that utilizes the entire community as a classroom.
In Schools on Trial, Nikhil Goyal attacks the public school system with zealous gusto, often employing shocking and exaggerated language to get his points across. It’s a turn-off that definitely detracts from his message, but it helped me to remember that he is only twenty years old, and very passionate about his topic; it explains the fervid tone throughout the book.
From my own (selfish) perspective as a homeschooling mom, especially as unschoolers, I enjoyed this book. I felt inspired, reading examples of children being encouraged and given the freedom to become self-directed learners. Goyal features a handful of free and democratic schools; the ways they put their philosophies in action gave me ideas we could use here at home, and sometimes validated my own gut feelings and observations about how children learn (which was a nice boost).
But when I thought outside my own corner of the world, I was frustrated. It’s easy to implement these ideas if you homeschool, but that isn’t the answer for everyone. And Goyal’s examples of brick-and-mortar schools based on these philosophies seem out of reach for many families due to tuition costs, location/accessibility, admission requirements, or a combination of all three. I went into Schools on Trial expecting some resolutions to the same issues I had with Peter Gray’s Free to Learn [my review]: Is there a practical way that this philosophy can be implemented in public schools? What about in low-income and/or violence-prone communities?
At least Goyal scratched the surface with a few possibilities, I did appreciate that. But I was overwhelmed thinking about how much it would cost to implement those ideas, and how many changes would need to be made within the school system, and honestly, outside of the school system, too. There are so many books on this topic, extolling a handful of schools where children who are privileged enough to attend, thrive, but neglecting to suggest practical, concrete solutions on how to fix our education system as a whole. I’m not sure Goyal says much in Schools on Trial that hasn’t already been said (and he does quote Gray, Holt, and many more, often), but his perspective as someone who has just come out of the current school system was worthwhile.
I came to this book as a homeschooling mom in a state that makes it pretty easy to school my child however I wish. Shannon at River City Reading actually works in education, though! So be sure to check out her thoughts on this title.