A Courageous Look at the American High School: The Legacy of James Coleman

In Saving Schools: From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning, scheduled for release by Harvard University Press this spring, Paul E. Peterson tells how five individuals—Horace Mann, John Dewey, Martin Luther King Jr., Al Shanker, and William Bennett—shaped American education in ways they never expected. Peterson chronicles how education became ever more centralized and bureaucratized, creating the monolithic system in place in the early 21st century. The story nonetheless ends on a hopeful note, as Peterson characterizes Julie Young’s innovative work at Florida Virtual School as a harbinger of an educational future in which learning finally becomes customized to each student’s circumstances. These excerpts from the book recall the bitterness of the controversy provoked by Coleman’s writings and reveals, for the first time, how Coleman’s insights were rooted in his own high-school experiences.

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