Why School? Revised and Expanded Edition, 2014

Mike Rose
Published by The New Press
ISBN 978-1595589385

The New Press has just issued Why School? Reclaiming Education for All of Us in paperback, and I used the occasion to significantly revise the original. As with the original, the new edition offers, to the best of my ability, a humanistic and democratic rationale for education in America, K–12 through college and adult school—a different version than that in reigning technocratic, economistic education policy. I added treatment of Race to the Top, Common Core State Standards, and the increased role of business in school policy. I also wrote new chapters on currently popular character education, on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and other expansions of on-line learning, and on poverty and adult education. I conclude with some thoughts and tips on writing about school.


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 workplace, 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 market-based and private solutions, which undercut the sharing of obligation and risk and keeps us scrambling for individual advantage. Though we pride ourselves as a nation of opportunity and a second chance, our social policies can be terribly ungenerous. As we try to improve our schools, we rush to one-dimensional solutions, to technological and structural "game changers" that all too often lead to new problems. We've narrowed the purpose of schooling to economic competitiveness, our kids becoming economic indicators. And 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.

Historically, national discussions about education have always had a political dimension to them and often have been contentious. But the current debates are so politicized and combative that positions easily get simplified and hardened, and nuance and possible areas of agreement are lost in the fiery polemics. We as a country and, certainly, the children in our schools, deserve better. Why School? was written in the midst of these debates and to be sure exhibits a point of view, but I hope that the book can contribute in some small way to a different kind of discussion of why we educate in America.

Table of Contents
  • Preface 
  • Introduction: Why School?
  • 1.   In Search of  Fresh Language of Schooling
  • 2.   Finding Our Way: The Experience of Education
  • 3.   No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the Spirit of Democratic Education
  • 4.   Business Goes to School
  • 5.   Intelligence in the Workplace and the Schoolhouse
  • 6.   On Values, Work, and Opportunity
  • 7.   Being Careful about Character
  • 8.   Reflections on Standards, Teaching, and Learning
  • 9.   MOOCs and Other Wonders: Education and High-Tech Utopia
  • 10.  Re-Mediating Remediation
  • 11.  Soldiers in the Classroom
  • 12.  The Inner Life of the Poor
  • 13.  Finding the Public Good through the Details of Classroom Life
  • Conclusion: The Journey Back and Forward
  • Afterword: Writing About School

Praise for Why School?

Selected by Bill Moyers as a "must read" book of 2009. "I interviewed Mike Rose 20 years ago for my series WORLD OF IDEAS. He was already on the path to becoming one of our most exciting thinkers about education in the lives of marginalized people. He lives in the real world, and this new book—slim and vividly written—is an inspiration for how to cope with it in our classrooms."
Bill Moyers Journal

"Rose gives a larger sense of the interplay between what happens in the classroom and the world outside school...[and] a capacious sense of what can happen within the interior world of the classroom." 
The New York Review of Books

"Rose puts into clear words what so many of us feel is lacking in our children's education...[He] recalibrates our thinking in this little book, the first step toward change."
The Los Angeles Times

Must Read. "This is a beautifully written work...Mike Rose draws on over 40 years of teaching experience and research, weaving memoir and policy discussion together in this moving call for the humane approach to education that accounts for the needs of every child."
Christian Science Monitor

"A compact and potent collection of essays."
The Nation

"Rose invites parents, community members, and other stake holders to join the conversation orbiting our educational system and reclaim it in the name of democracy and equity...Rose profiles remarkable teachers, engaged students, and blossoming schools. His descriptions of each are underlined by his convection that learning, as a human endeavor...is magnificent. It is wondrous."
In These Times

"Eloquent...Rose's collection is filled with stories of students and teachers working together in ways that dispel stereotypes about what is possible in the inner city classroom or the remedial college writing class. 'We have lost our way,' he writes in the book's opening pages, because our vision of what public education can and should be has become too small."
The Progressive

"Aims to reinvigorate a discussion on the value of education in a democracy...strongly advocates for education that values reflection, curiosity, and imagination rather than the quantifiable measures favored by economists."

"Rose illuminates the ethical stance and the implied moral contract at the heart of teaching, [and] he encourages us to think deeply about what we want our schools to do and be...Why School? is essential reading. [It] is crisp, concise, lively."
Rethinking Schools

"Mike Rose is once again at his most bold and brilliant. My favorite parts are the vivid details of classroom life, but Rose's broad scope reaches far beyond the schools and asks essential questions of the meaning of 'a good society' in the great tradition of John Dewey. Rose is a rare treasure in this dreary moment of debate along the dismal flatlands of educational discourse. He brings us to the mountaintops."
Jonathan Kozol, author of The Shame of a Nation and Letters to a Young Teacher

"One of the most insightful, challenging, honest, helpful, and encouraging books I've read in many years."
Joe Nathan, Director of Center for School Change, University of Minnesota