Street Without A Name

The Book of the Week is “Street Without a Name” by Kapka Kassabova, published in 2009.  This autobiography describes the brand of Communism the author experienced as a child in 1970’s and 80’s Sofia, Bulgaria, and the Bulgarian historical events that interested her.

It was an unspoken, dirty little secret that the Communist lifestyle was actually inferior to that of the West. The Bulgarian government told the people that “Politburo comrades were heroes of the anti-Fascist resistance” and “the labor camps were for enemies of the people.”

The author’s mother branded Bulgaria’s leader and his cronies “idiots in brown suits.”  The State oversaw all academic, athletic and musical events, such as a contest called the Olympiads, in which grade-school kids competed in different subjects.  At ten years old, Kassabova was convinced that the West consisted of drug addicts, criminals, capitalists and dreadful child labor, based on one story:  Dickens’ “David Copperfield.”

Her parents both worked in the field of engineering, which placed the family in the middle class. Even so, the family lived in a third-class (out of four classes) concrete neighborhood where blocks were numbered. At the furniture store, there was a three or four-month waiting list for shelves and beds, that only afforded one the opportunity to physically fight for the desired items when the delivery truck arrived at the store in the wee hours.

One time, when the author was eleven, her father met someone from the Netherlands through his work, and invited his family to go “camping” with his own, on the outskirts of Sofia.  The Dutch visitors arrived in a recreational vehicle (RV), while the Bulgarian family had brought a hard-to-obtain, shabby military tent.  (As an aside, the cost of the RV equalled about twenty years’ worth of the author’s mother’s income.)  The Dutch were horrified by the disgusting state of the toilets, and the “rubbish and dogs everywhere.”  The Dutch, in addition to their sparkling new vehicle, brought Western goods, including Gummi Bears, chocolate biscuits, juice in little cartons, and one of ten varieties of potato grown in their home country.

The Kassabovas knew their standard of living under Communism was way overrated by their government but they could not leave Bulgaria– until the Berlin Wall fell.  Even then, they had to complete a ton of bureaucratic paperwork and wait years.  During such time, the author’s mother underwent a stay in the hospital, where there were newspapers instead of sheets, and soap and towels had to be provided by patients themselves.  The author’s father paid a large bribe to the head doctor so as to see the patient emerge from the hospital alive; during Bulgaria’s transition to capitalism, there was more corruption than before– which is saying a lot.

Read the book to learn more about the author’s perspective on her life and birth country.

Bonus Post

I am pleased to announce that Noah Gotbaum and I will be appearing as guests on the CUNY TV show, “Edcast,” to be aired on:

Wednesday, March 23, 10am, 3pm and 11pm

Saturday, March 26, 8pm

and Sunday March 27, 10am.

That’s channel 75 on TimeWarner and Cablevision, and channel 77 on RCN in New York City.

You may recall that my book: “The Education and Deconstruction of Mr. Bloomberg, How the Mayor’s Education and Real Estate Development Policies Affected New Yorkers 2002-2009 Inclusive” is available at Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com, among other online stores.

Edcast lasts 30 minutes, but the Mayor’s education reforms have set New York City grade-school students back for decades to come.

There is an easy two-step solution to improving education in this city:

Step 1. Get rid of all of the patronage-hired, pricey “education consultants” that are draining the education budget, and select vendors through competitive bidding. (I mention in my book a mere handful of the countless examples of this exorbitant spending:

Platform Learning, whose fee was a projected $7.6 million for a projected five years, that snowballed into $62 million in three years;

All Kinds of Minds, which fulfilled only 20% of its $10 million contract with the Department of Education;

Cambridge Education, which was paid more than $16 million to measure schools’ usage of data; the personnel commuted from England at this city’s expense;

Accenture was paid $2 million instead of $500,000, which should have gone to the lowest bidder in a nine-company competitive bidding process.)

Step 2. Use the vast quantity of money saved to reduce class sizes, hire experienced teachers, purchase books and supplies, etc.

The Cost of Courage

The Book of the Week is “The Cost of Courage” by Carl Elliott, Sr., published in 1992.  This autobiography describes an American politician who acted on controversial matters in a morally correct way, making him unpopular with Southerners and Conservatives.  In so doing, he hurt his career.

In 1930, Elliott had an easy time getting accepted to college.   For, there was no admissions paperwork at the University of Alabama. Anyone who had a pulse and could pay the tuition in that early-Great-Depression year, was in. Most of the coed school’s students were upper-crust residents of the Black Belt and Birmingham.  Freshmen were required to wear beanies so that they were easily identifiable.

Elliott became an eight-term Alabama Congressman who fought for the civil rights of African Americans.  Another politician whose career was harmed by doing the right thing, was Alabama governor Jim Folsom.  In 1954, he invited African American Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. to the governor’s mansion in Montgomery for a drink.  In 1962, Folsom was pushed out of office by people who voted for (racist) George Wallace.

Read the book to learn the details of Elliott’s heroic but unwise career moves.

The Death and Life of the Great American School System

The Book of the Week is “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” by Diane Ravitch, published in 2010.

This book appears to argue that the great American school system is moving closer to death.

Ms. Ravitch discusses how testing and accountability have “become the main levers of school reform… In the trade-off, our education system ended up with no curricular goals, low standards and dumbed-down tests.”

With the imposition of more standardized testing than ever before, education has been narrowed to only the subjects on the tests– literacy and mathematics.

The goal of some school districts, in implementing reform, has been to close the racial achievement gap.  For decades, students of certain ethnic groups (such as blacks and Hispanics) have shown lower test scores than their peers (who are whites and Asians).  There may be many causes for this (such as economic and demographic changes, to say nothing of test-question wording), but politicians think they can solve the problem through a formula. Ms. Ravitch provides an anecdotal example of this thinking in San Diego in the late 1990’s.

Teachers were resistant to “get with the program” due to the way in which it was forced upon them.  The outside educational coaches hired to work with the school personnel, were viewed as enforcers, rather than as collaborators.  The teachers were supposed to utter inane phrases, such as “I am a reflective practitioner.”  They were to spend a specific number of minutes on teaching a prescribed subject, and then move to another, even when the changeover was disruptive. Stress-related illnesses among the teachers, skyrocketed.

Ms. Ravitch covers a host of other issues, such as “No Child Left Behind,” controversies over standards, school vouchers, charter schools, use of private monies to fund education, the power of the federal and state governments concerning education, teaching-credentials, and a choice of schools for the students.

Politicians believe they are improving education by providing parents with an array of schools which their children can attend. The thinking is, choice will foster competition in the district.  This is a misguided notion, to say the least.

Ms. Ravitch states, “Julian Betts of U.C. San Diego questioned whether choice was even a successful strategy because his own studies found that choice had little or no effect on student achievement.”

Some charter schools accept students via a lottery system; other schools hand-pick their students. Even when unlucky students or those who require extra help are offered it– through extra school hours or free tutoring– it has been the tutoring companies that have profited handsomely.  There has been no quality-monitoring of the tutoring, so there has been no way to judge for sure whether students have shown any improvement.  One way to see, might be through standardized test scores, but scores’ validity and reliability have been questionable of late, for various reasons.

In many districts, there is grossly unfair funding allocation among schools.  A colossal amount of monies from billionaires (private sources) have been poured into charter schools and education reform initiatives that provide lucky students with special resources, while public schools have had to make do with scant taxpayer dollars and have had to go without, during times of severe budget cuts.

As for accountability, there is none. Ms. Ravitch writes that politicians have collaborated with nonprofit foundations because the latter are contributing megabucks to schools.  Consequently, they have acquired overwhelming power and influence.  “If voters don’t like the foundations’ reform agenda, they can’t vote them out of office.  The foundations demand that public schools and teachers be held accountable for performance, but they themselves are accountable to no one… they are bastions of unaccountable power.”

RIP, quality American education.

John Purroy Mitchel

The Book of the Week is “John Purroy Mitchel, The Boy Mayor of New York” by Edwin R. Lewinson, published in 1965.

Previously a young attorney, co-Commissioner of Accounts and President of the Board of Aldermen in New York City, Mitchel was elected Mayor in 1913 on the Fusion Party ticket.  However, he was inept as a politician because both his speech-making and political-machine-building skills were poor. Like Mayor John Lindsay, Mitchel had good intentions, but did not get much done. He was brutally honest and never took action for the purpose of gaining the popularity of his constituents.

Like Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Mitchel’s economic concerns overrode all others, and his administration operated under a veil of secrecy. Mitchel rubbed shoulders with the Rockefellers, and thus acquired a reputation of favoring big-money interests. However, he wanted to keep the then-46 members on the Board of Education, rather than have the power to appoint only 9 members.  If he had such power, those 9 men would be difficult to find, in that they would be “required to give all their time.”  The only people who could afford to, were millionaires, “and they are the very worst type to put in control of the schools.” Further, “The tendency of mayors is to respect the aristocratic voice of the community and to forget the democratic.”

The irony of the Mitchel administration was that, although he was pro-education, he was more interested in saving money than providing New York City’s children with a decent education. The mayor was not a narcissist out to acquire power and appoint his cronies. Nevertheless, the Board of Estimate was a penny-pinching entity, and engaged in petty squabbles over money, with the Board of Education.  Estimate refused to spend money to build much-needed schools. Mitchel wanted Estimate to control the wages of Education’s employees, which included teachers.  Besides, during his entire time in office, Mitchel’s public relations was non-existent with teachers and parents.

In 1914, Mitchel and other city officials visited Gary, Indiana to observe an education experiment, and decided to introduce “The Gary Plan” to New York City’s schools. The Board of Estimate favored the plan because it saved money and saved school-building space. Not surprisingly, teachers and parents opposed the plan. Under the plan, students could opt to start learning a trade in middle school. The schools superintendent published a two-year progress report showing poor performance among students in the two “Gary” schools in New York City.  The plan was abandoned in 1917, after 35 participating schools experienced negative results.

In 1917, Mitchel ran for re-election because he wanted New Yorkers to support the United States in World War I. He accused others of being unpatriotic if they did not support the war. He himself attended a military camp while still in his first term. When he lost the mayoral election to John Hylan, he joined the Air Force, which was at that time part of the U.S. Signal Corps, and was sent to San Diego, then to Louisiana for training. Although he was 38, he wanted to fight in the war.

In July 1918, Mitchel did not have his seatbelt fastened when he died in a solo-flight accident in Louisiana.  More people paid their last respects to him than did people who attended New York’s 4th of July celebrations just a few days before. He was highly praised for his “bravery, patriotism, his integrity and his ability as a public official.”   Mitchel Field, an airfield just finished on Long Island, was so named in his honor.

Everything is Broken

The Book of the Week is “Everything is Broken” by Emma Larkin (an alias), published in 2010.  This book discusses the actions of the oppressive regime of Burma (aka Myanmar) with respect to Cyclone Nargis, which hit on May 2, 2008.

In addition to describing the nation’s violent history, the author also delves into the religious side of Burma, which includes an active monastic community.  Such community ended up on the losing side of an ugly dispute with soldiers in the summer of 2007.  There had also been a famous 1988 student uprising, which resulted in imprisonment of the dissidents.

Well over 100,000 people died in Cyclone Nargis, which did devastating damage to the Irrawaddy Delta.  Many lives could have been saved had the Burmese government– run by military generals and one general in particular– for almost a week, not refused disaster-relief workers entry into the country. The government also barred the media from the affected areas, blockading road and river access.

Human corpses and cattle clogged the waterways.  The one and only newspaper (a propaganda font) distributed in Burma, reported that people were eating fish and frogs they caught in the rivers, because they were not receiving foodstuffs from aid workers.  A famous comedian who publicly contradicted this account was summarily arrested and imprisoned, in accordance with the government’s practice of draconian censorship.

Although Burma has drawn harsh criticism from international civil rights groups, the generals do not care because their land contains precious minerals, teak and most luckily of all, natural gas and oil deposits.  Other countries of the world such as France, the U.S., Thailand and China are still eager to do business with it.

The author writes of the Burmese authorities, “The facts were already bloated with hindsight, overblown by rumor and sound bites from the more sensational elements of the international media and activist groups, and underplayed by the regime’s own meticulously archived propaganda machine.”  People in developed nations might feel this quote depicts their situation on a local level, even given the standard of living and freer political climate in their communities.

Nevertheless, there is a slight difference between this very common tale in third-world countries– oppressive military governments ruthlessly let people die in natural disasters, or persecute citizens at the slightest provocation; developed countries’ governments might impose education reforms that worsen conditions, or violate the civil rights of a particular group of people so that they lose their livelihoods, but violence and murder are extremely rare.

A book like this allows a reader to put things in perspective, and feel grateful that he or she does not live in Burma.

Bonus Post

I am pleased to announce that my book: “The Education and Deconstruction of Mr. Bloomberg, How the Mayor’s Education and Real Estate Development Policies Affected New Yorkers 2002-2009 Inclusive” is available through the following online channels:

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Please visit

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to read an excerpt.

Thank you.

Crossing the River

The Book of the Week is “Crossing the River” by Victor Grossman, published in 2003.

This autobiography tells how an American defected to East Germany during the Korean War. A very unusual story, indeed. He was brainwashed by both his parents, intellectual Communists, in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

He tried to rationalize his penchant for suffering by saying that the cruel and unusual goings-on in the US actually provided a worse way for people to live, than the East Germans did. In the early 1950’s, the McCarthy era was in full swing, the US had ousted the leader of Guatemala in a bloody affair, and instigated another shameful coup in Iran; there was the ugliness at Peekskill, there was still segregation; besides, the Soviets had helped defeat Germany. Comrade Stalin was a god, to the Communists.

The author argues that in 1960, the quality of life wasn’t so bad in East Germany. Yes, there were severe food shortages, but everyone’s medical care was paid for, and everyone had a job or was provided with necessities for survival, and assistance for finding a job, according to his own need. Of course, the people also spent needless hours every day manually washing clothes and dishes, lighting a fire in the pot-bellied stove, and patiently waiting for unreliable public transportation, or hoofing it, because they couldn’t afford a car.

In the early 1960’s, the East Germans kept trying to attack the integrity of the Federal Republic (of West Germany) (with good reason) by publicizing the fact that a large number of ex-Nazis (who had committed unspeakable war crimes) were working in civil service– as judges, even(!) and in the West’s armed forces. It was somewhat alarming that so many Nazis were helping Germany to re-arm, and becoming a pivotal force in NATO.

In the late 1980s, the East German leaders staged a few media incidents, trying to continue to isolate the “German Democratic Republic” (the misnomer that was East Germany) clinging to power, believing that only they could be keepers of the flame. The East Germans, like the Chinese, were into self-criticism circles. They had “tutors”, who bullied doubters and discouraged free-thinkers, cutting them down with questions such as, “Are you questioning the collective judgment of experienced Marxist leaders, able to assess factors far better than any individual? Could you be more correct than they are?”

It was a traumatic time for the author when Khrushchev revealed Stalin’s crimes in the mid 1950’s. But the author continued to rationalize that his adopted homeland was still a better place to live than imperialist America. It’s an excellent book anyway.

BONUS POST

I am pleased to announce that my book:

“The Education and Deconstruction of Mr. Bloomberg, How the Mayor’s Education and Real Estate Development Policies Affected New Yorkers 2002-2009 Inclusive”

is out.

Please find below, the first page of the Table of Contents and a page of the Introduction. [Please excuse the wonky formatting]

Copyright © 2016 by Sally A. Friedman

CONTENTS

Introduction ……………………………………………………………………………….. 7

SECTION I

1 Education—Overview ……………………………………………………………….. 15

2 Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein …………………………………………………. 17

3 The Education Budget ……………………………………………………………… 21

4 Student Subgroups …………………………………………………………………. 42

5 What Did Your School Get? ………………………………………………………. 52

6 Propaganda ……………………………………………………………………………. 57

7 Reducing Class Sizes ……………………………………………………………….. 65

8 Small Schools …………………………………………………………………………. 73

9 Testing, Testing. One million. Two million. Testing, Testing. …………. 78

10 Unsafe At Any Rate . . . ………………………………………………………….. 87

11 Charter Schools and Culturally-Themed Schools………………………… 95

12 School Construction ……………………………………………………………… 109

13 Mayoral Control ……………………………………………………………………. 114

SECTION II

1 Rezoning and ULURP …………………………………………………………….. 121

2 Zoning Meetings ……………………………………………………………………. 127

3 Construction Woes …………………………………………………………………. 133

4 Self-Certification ……………………………………………………………………. 145

5 Deutsche Bank Building ………………………………………………………….. 148

6 Other Deadly Mishaps …………………………………………………………….. 153

7 Enforcement ………………………………………………………………………….. 160

8 Mr. Bloomberg’s Stadiums ……………………………………………………….. 167

9 Other Parks Projects ……………………………………………………………….. 176

10 Other Law-Skirting Projects ……………………………………………………. 182

11 Other Brooklyn Projects …………………………………………………………. 187

12 Atlantic Yards ………………………………………………………………………. 191

* * *

INTRODUCTION, p. 11

…making himself available to parents. The mayor performed the important tasks of negotiating with the unions, securing funding from the higher powers and making public relations appearances when there was good news to report.

I have observed that there were three recurring themes in Mr. Bloomberg’s modus operandi in both Education and Real Estate Development:

Theme 1: He was overly optimistic. As his various education initiatives and construction projects progressed, he routinely threw around and changed numbers on standardized test scores, graduation rates, school openings, school crime rates, construction costs, creation of jobs and affordable housing units, among others, and sometimes even distorted facts outright.

Theme 2: Time after time, Mr. Bloomberg asked for input from the community, or purported to, on new school openings and on construction of schools and other projects, but usually ended up hiring his cronies and ignored the community’s wishes.

Theme 3: He took advantage of legal loopholes or skirted around the law to forge ahead with his agendum.

His agendum was to acquire power. Why else did he take control of the schools and overturn term limits? It was not for the money. In November 2009, Mr. Bloomberg won his third-term election bid by a narrow margin, mostly because he was still viewed as a stronger candidate than the opposing one. His power and popularity were waning, however, rocked by various investigations in recent years, including a slush-fund scandal, and corruption and sloppiness in construction that led to fatal accidents, that resulted in the termination of decades-long unethical practices. Further, he was accused of being involved in various conflicts of interest and of being hypocritical on environmental and health issues.

Two farmyard clichés and one generic cliché also aptly describe many occurrences during the Bloomberg administration between 2002 and 2009:

Cliché 1: “Just another case of the fox guarding the henhouse”

Cliché 2: “Closing the barn door after the horses have already fled”

Cliché 3: “Do as I say, not as I do”

The above themes and clichés are so common in my text, that I refer to their generic names; i.e., I will use the blog style, for example, “File under Theme 1” or “File under Cliché 2” when providing evidence of same. Enjoy.


Copyright © 2016 by Sally A. Friedman

Saving Schools

The Book of the Week is “Saving Schools” by Paul E. Peterson, published in 2010.  This book tells the history of education in the United States.  It presents some inconvenient facts many politicians and even education “professionals” do not want to acknowledge.

Sociologist James Coleman did extensive longitudinal studies on thousands of students in the early 1960’s.  He found that “within regions and types of communities (urban, suburban and rural), expenditures per pupil were about the same in black and white schools… students did not learn more just because more money was spent on their education.” Students’ reading ability was not affected by the following factors:  class sizes, teachers’ credentials, textbook newness, number of books in the school library, or any other “material resource of a school.” It was affected by the students’ home lives. Another interesting finding was that low-income African-Americans read better when placed in classes with higher-income Caucasians, but the latter did not do worse when placed in classes with the former.

During the era of desegregation of the schools, Caucasian families moved from cities to suburbs at a higher rate than did African-American families.  Suburban schools therefore became more segregated, and thus there occurred less integration than otherwise in all kinds of communities overall.

One of LBJ’s anti-poverty programs gave billions of federal dollars to schools to provide intensive tutoring to disadvantaged African American students.  Unfortunately, this singled the students out, and made them targets for bullying.  Besides, the tutors “often had less training” than regular classroom teachers.  Research has yet to prove that the tutoring was significantly helpful.

Some education reformers have called for hiring of teachers who lack a master’s degree, as extra schooling is no guarantee of better teaching. Teachers earned master’s degrees in droves in the 20th century only because they were paid more for earning one. Teacher-training schools and unions have vehemently opposed removing this teaching credential.

“…relative to other employees who hold college degrees, teachers today are not as well paid as they were in 1960.”

In 2008, federal education officials and a team at UCLA proposed national education standards.  However, the portrayal of the United States in historical accounts, and the selectivity of curricular contents turned out to be too controversial.

The book also exposes the flaws of George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” law.  It covers the pros and cons of school vouchers, and the system that has been widely implemented as an alternative to vouchers – charter schools.

The author obviously favors the use of technology with regard to education.  For, the table of contents bears the headings for parts 1, 2 and 3:  “The Rise,” “The Decline” and “Signs of Resurrection.”  The third part contains a chapter on technology.

The author speculates that the future of education will involve online learning for all students, even declaring: “Each student, each household, each family will pick and choose among the endless variety of options entrepreneurs can produce.”  The use of the word “entrepreneurs” is disturbing when used in the context of education.  The author makes other assertions with which I do not agree, but he does provide extensive documentation on matters of “fact.”