Paul E. Peterson
The Belknap Press, Harvard University Press
In these 300 pages, Harvard’s Paul Peterson retells the history of American public education through the lives of six influential leaders. He argues that Horace Mann, John Dewey, Martin Luther King, Jr., Albert Shanker, William Bennett, and James Coleman all tried yet ultimately failed to achieve their respective goals, many of which included customizing education to the individual child. What happened instead was an unintended march toward ever-greater centralization. But where they failed, Peterson insists, virtual education may yet succeed. He poses a new leader: Julie Young of the Florida Virtual School, a state-wide virtual charter that points toward a new form of “mass customization”. The book is provocative, for sure, though some readers may question whether “customization” was really yesterday’s goal—and whether virtual education is powerful enough to produce it at scale tomorrow, particularly in the face of claims that a strong democracy needs the “common” school more than the individualized kind. You can buy a copy here.