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Education Reporter

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Class Warfare: Besieged Schools, Bewildered Parents, Betrayed Kids and the Attack on Excellence by J. Martin Rochester, Encounter Books, 2002, $26.95

University of Missouri Political Science Professor Martin Rochester writes with clarity and engaging personal insight about the many fronts in the education battle, including the reading wars, the math wars, and the struggle that underlies them all: the war between education progressives and traditionalists.

Rochester admits spending much of his adult life as a liberal, even into the 1990s and the Clinton presidency. "All the while, however," he writes, "I sensed that, as I was aging, I was becoming more alienated from the left."

The "progressive pedagogy" of the education establishment played a significant role in Rochester's eventual alienation, as well as his experience as a self-described "battle-scarred parent." He describes many a battle against the mediocrity, dumbed-down academics, and downright silliness in the schools his children attended, which are considered among the best in metropolitan St. Louis area where Rochester and his family live.

Class Warfare is replete with fascinating personal glimpses into the professor's life and experiences in the education system, both as a teacher and a parent. He describes, for example, how he once became part of a group of parents calling themselves "Parents Against Average Schools (PAAS)." Later, when several African-American parents began a support group using the same acronym, Rochester's group was labeled "racially insensitive."

In Chapter 4, Rochester takes on the flawed theory of "multiple intelligences," explaining how it "feeds nicely into the modern educationist's belief in 'mass excellence' and the modern parent's hope that his or her child is gifted or is at least a cut above the neighbor's kid." In the same chapter, he describes the "Play-Doh" episode in his son's 8th-grade class at Wydown Middle School. The children's progressive teacher urged them to "express their feelings" about a topic, using "any communication medium they wanted." Rochester's son, Sean, chose Play-Doh.

Class Warfare provides enough eyewitness testimony to keep the reader engaged, yet the book has a scholarly tone befitting a career academic. Overall, Rochester provides an unusual and discomfiting view of America's education crisis.

Visit Encounter Books website at www.encounterbooks.com.

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