Kevin Donnelly, Menzies Research Centre
From Down Under comes this blistering critique of the Australian education system. Australians are exiting public schools in record numbers. In 2002, 30 percent of Aussie kids were in private schools, compared to 22 percent in 1980. Donnelly highlights a litany of problems contributing to failing public schools - problems similar, yet often more egregious than the ones we have in America. He argues that Australia's education system is currently "dumbed down, politically correct, and under-performing." Australia's standards are not as rigorous as other high-performing countries, span multiple years, and lack rigorous assessment until the final year of school. Moreover, the curriculum has been hijacked by unions and their bureaucratic allies, who have a fetish for politically correct instructional materials but seemingly little interest in that material's effectiveness. (Last year, for example, a six-year-old boy from Queensland was suspended for sexual harassment when he "poked a girl on the bum" and was made to review a picture of a naked woman and point to the area he touched.) Finally, Australia has adopted an outcomes-based approach to learning, which eschews a syllabus or standards and instead has teachers judge students' success through vague guidelines. This handholding has lead to innovations like "fuzzy math" (primary students use calculators and no longer perform simple equations like long division) and "whole learning" (students look and guess to determine the meaning of words). Like many right-wing critics of political correctness, Donnelly sometimes falls prey to a kind of sensitivity that verges on paranoia. But the book does excel in identifying the system's problems and proposing clear solutions. Order it here.