Overschooled and Undereducated is more than just another book that breathes the usual heavy sigh of despair in reaction to much of the western world’s education system today. Rather, the book provides a rich history that outlines significant twists and turns in the path leading to our current system and describes in great detail the various socio-political contexts that have set the backdrops for each change in our ideas about education.
At first I was surprised to see just how much of this book seemed to be comprised of history lessons, and I began to feel somewhat disappointed. I laughed when I was told in a later chapter not to feel this way. (or else I would join the ranks who are doomed to repeat history for not understanding it!) I was able to adjust my attitude once I realized that my disappointment stemmed from my having already read much about western education’s dismal recent past, and that this book actually offered some ideas about what to do to make positive changes. There are a heavy few chapters for people who are not keen on names and dates, but they are necessary in how they inform the chapters that follow.
While the differences between the Canadian system (systems really, as education in Canada is the jurisdiction of each separate province) and the British system are large, it is not difficult to make the necessary translations in reading the later chapters of this book. In fact, it is easy to see how Canada might follow some of Britain’s most frightening blunders, especially given the tendency that Canadian politicians have in seeing education as the cure for all of civilization’s ills. Despite some positive decisions in some provinces, at its heart the Canadian system is based on the same industrial, outcome-based model as is much of the rest of western world. What is different about this book is the suggestion that school should not become the stand-in for our broken families and our fragmented communities. Rather, those institutions need to be strengthened and recognized as the powerful places of learning that they are.
The author chooses wonderfully rich quotes that are so integral to the purpose of the book that it is hard to remember that they have been gathered from at least a dozen different disciplines and from across many centuries. The multi-faceted, complex ideas in this book are knit together in a way that makes it impossible to study education from the perspective of any single discipline ever again.
There are many verbal gems throughout the book, making it quite memorable and very readable. Even given the few heavily historical chapters, it is possibly the most accessible book on education history (that has anything to say) that I have read to date. I have no doubt that this book will draw a large and varied audience. I see it becoming the standard text for teachers-to-be and necessary reading for anyone taking Master’s programs in education.