Urban Studies
Spring 2008

Study Guide for The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America (2005) by Jonathan Kozol

Second Reading Assignment (pp. 63-108)

Chapter 3: “The Ordering Regime” (63-87)

Summary: The mandates of the “No Child Left Behind” legislation, combined with the enduring funding inequities which administrators in urban public schools must face, have led many principals in city schools to embrace new, “teacher-proof,” rote and drill curricula whose stimulus and response methods have been borrowed from the world of business. To prepare children for standardized tests, teachers are given scripted lesson plans complete with minute by minute directions for everything from questions to answers to the hand gestures which should accompany them. Teachers are also required to fill out highly detailed performance charts (and then display them prominently) to prove that students have achieved named and numbered competencies for state mandated learning objectives.

Kozol argues that these teaching strategies reduce education to little more than programming. As one teacher put it, “I can teach my dog to do this.” Kozol notes that this type of rote learning can produce temporary up-ticks in the performance of students on standardized tests, but they do not provide training in analytical thinking and creative problem solving that are essential to higher education. In essence, the kids are being taught to be worker-bees who follow directions to the letter. Then they will be useful to our service economy.

So at Paca today we need to carefully observe the teaching style of the teachers and determine for ourselves if Kozol’s criticism applies to this urban public school:

Curriculum Questions:

How much of the school year at Paca is devoted to preparations for standardized tests?


Are students at Paca being taught functional reading, writing and arithmetic skills which will make them useful in a retail job, or are they being taught the foundation skills which will enable them to prepare for college?


How regimented are the class lesson plans?


Is a balance struck between demanding efficiency and allowing room for the natural spontaneity of children? How often are kids asked to think creatively instead of answering questions with drilled responses?


Do kids ask good questions? (Examples?)


To what extent do teachers at Paca use scripted lesson plans featuring rote and drill, stimulus and response exercises?


Are teachers asked to write state educational standards with the proper numbers on the chalkboard for each day’s lesson?


How much time must teachers spend filling out inventories which chart student outcomes for learning objectives?


Do teachers feel comfortable with the lesson plans they teach? How frequently do teaching jobs at the school turn over?


How are classrooms and hallways decorated at Paca? Do they emphasize student creativity as the measure of achievement, or are state mandated learning objectives emphasized?


Do you see performance charts on the walls which inventory ‘student outcomes to determine competencies’?


Are kids publicly humiliated by design as part of the school curriculum? (Like the public announcement of Reading Levels at PS 65 (73))


How do the teachers get kids to line up and move from place to place during the school day? (Are the directions excessively regimented?


Do teachers encourage their students to feel like successful workers in an employment situation? How much is the culture of the workplace being transplanted into the culture of the classroom?

Chapter 4: “Preparing Minds for Markets” (89-108)


Kozol argues that “stimulus-response” curricula train children, from as early as kindergarten, to think themselves suited only to service economy jobs (managers, cashiers, salespeople, nurses aides, health assistants, cooks, waiters) not white collar professionals (lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers). Is America developing a dual education system, one for urban kids and the other for suburban kids?

Curriculum Questions:


Does Paca’s curriculum condition children to pursue service economy jobs instead of professions that require advanced degrees


Do Paca teachers use ‘token economies’ to ‘incentivize’ learning activities?


Does Paca maintain relationships with corporate sponsors? Do these sponsors have any influence on the actual structure of the educational program?