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Paperback The War Against Excellence: The Rising Tide of Mediocrity in America's Middle Schools Book

ISBN: 1578862272

ISBN13: 9781578862276

The War Against Excellence: The Rising Tide of Mediocrity in America's Middle Schools

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Book Overview

Here, veteran teacher Cheri Pierson Yecke details the chronological history of the middle school movement in the U. S. by tracing its evolution from academically-oriented junior high schools to the dissolution of academics in the middle schools of the late 1980s and beyond. In this book, evidence is presented to show how leaders of this movement designed to use the middle school as a vehicle to promote non-academic goals, contrary to the desires of...

Customer Reviews

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Middle school has become a play ground for social radicals

Other books have reviewed the decline of education in American with a broad general view. Cheri Pierson Yecke focuses on the middle school movement over the last 30 plus years, and how many facets of the middle school movement have hurt specifically the talented and gifted children, but also children in general. She does a great job in reviewing various pieces of the middle school change. She has hundreds of footnotes; many of them are as interesting as the main text of the book.The author starts off with a historical perspective of education and then covers how recently there has been a push to change to a K-5, middle school, and high school structured approach. The motivation of many behind the middle school movement has been a desire to "fix" society. Historically education has meant learning how to read, write, and how to do math. Many in the middle school movement wanted to do social engineering. Instead of trying to teach each student as much as the child could learn, the middle school radicals have pushed for equal outcomes. This is in direct contrast to what advocates for the talented and gifted want. Over time many of the middle school radicals have become hostile to the needs and interests of the talented and gifted. Cheri Pierson Yecke acknowledges that this was one of the main motivations for her going back to school and get a PhD, to try and understand why the needs of her own children were not being meet. Chapter three was on how the middle school curriculum has been dumbed down, so everyone can pass the same course. Next was a chapter on "Ability Grouping" and how the middle school movement has fought "Ability Grouping" as being elitist. The next chapter was about "Cooperative learning" which has small groups of children working together. This may be a good idea once in awhile, but the middle school movement does a lot of it. Cooperative learning advocates defend it by saying it is good for the gifted, but by and large the gifted students find it a waste of time. The gifted students often end up doing a lot of the work, and the rest of the group gets a free ride, or the gifted student doesn't contribute, and the group suffers. In effect the gifted students is being forced to be a teacher's assistant. This is explored even more in the chapter on "Peer tutoring." For me a very key part of the problem is the gifted students, at a young age, are being forced to teach those who don't want to learn. Mature adults may be able to find reasonable solutions, but most young children often find this an impossible situation to deal with.Chapter seven does some analysis of the beliefs and driving convictions of those pushing the middle school movement. Based on what they say publicly Cherie Pierson Yecke finds that many of them want equal outcomes. Rather than having a level playing field where everyone has an equal chance to succeed, the middle school radicals want coercive egalitarianism, they want to force everyone to be

A review from the Trenches of Education

Those critics of Yecke's book who claim that she makes "bizarre" and "unsubstantiated claims" cause me to wonder if they have even bothered to read the text at all. Not only is this one of the most meticulously researched, annotated, and footnoted books I have ever encountered in my nineteen years in the field of education, but it is also one of the most timely in that it deals with pertinent issues, the results of which we can witness in our own society and the fruits of which we will be forced to reckon with as graduates of our dumbed-down educational system begin to take over jobs and leadership positions in our society.To examine Yecke's credentials is to find a woman infinitely qualified to comment on the current state of our middle schools - she is an honored middle school teacher, she is a respected academic in the field of educational policy, she is a no-nonsense author and administrator of such policy, and (perhaps most importantly) she is a concerned mother of two. But despite all of these elements, she is one of the most amicable, welcoming, and forthright professionals I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Everything about this woman exudes dedication to a cause greater than her own interests and absolute integrity in execution. Some claim that she is driven by an extreme right-wing agenda because she has served under Republican governors. I must admit that this was my initial prejudice as well. However, immediately upon beginning this book, I found myself faced with issues that know no political classification but are instead universal ones that should be of concern to all Americans. I have discussed this book with colleagues of several political persuasions and the verdict has always been the same: Yecke is correct.As an educator and an academic, I have nothing but praise for this book, which focuses not only on the problem, but also on the solution. To those who are so quick to condemn The War Against Excellence, I would ask them to read it again -or perhaps for the first time - with an open mind and no political agenda. I have no doubt that they will uncover not only an undeniable pattern of erosion in our public schools, but also the practical and proactive steps for salvaging our educational system and creating a nation of young adults who will have earned a true sense of self-worth through legitimate means of accomplishment, and not some sorry substitute for it masquerading as "self-esteem" but rather consisting of the quiet complacency of apathy.


The pursuit of excellence has been an integral part of the Western tradition, contributing much to its unique vitality. To my knowledge no one has doubted the propriety of pursuing excellence; after all who would want to recommend mediocrity? No one, that is, until quite recently. Welcome to the bizarre world of the middle school as revealed to us by Cheri Pierson Yecke in TheWar Against Excellence, The Rising Tide of Mediocrity in America?s Middle Schools. It?s the world of "brain periodization," "brain-based curricula," "identity development," "detracking," "untracking," and "transescents." It?s a world where "progressive" educators know better than parents what?s best for their children (Parents aren?t up to date on the latest findings in Ed. Psych.) and high ability students are urged to "succumb to peer pressure and strive not to achieve, or they will risk making their classmates look bad---and their actions might even go so far as to force the non-motivated students to work harder!" Dr. Yecke?s book, the fruit of seven years of research and writing, is not only a work of impeccable scholarship, it is an expose, guaranteed to make the blood boil of everyone who is interested in genuine education and the future of our country. It is carefully organized, well written, and exceedingly well researched and documented. As Dr. Yecke says, it is a story that had to be told, and a story the basically tells itself through quotations from books, articles and papers delivered at conferences. The saga begins as Yecke, the mother of two academically talented daughters and a middle school teacher herself, became disillusioned (an understatement) with "self-proclaimed experts" and their "pseudo-wisdom" who turned the middle school into an "activist movement designed to force radical social changes, regardless of the values or desires of parents, students, or members of the community at large." Yecke returned to graduate school, and earned her doctorate so she could deal with the "so-called experts" as an equal. And that is what she does in this tough, hard-hitting, and much needed book.The middle school made its debut in the late ?50s and early ?60s. The National Middle School Association (NMSA) was founded in 1973. To most citizens the appearance of middle schools meant simply a new way of organizing the classes, but for their champions it was much more---it was a movement. They saw, rightly of course, that a new structure is easier to change than an existing one. Hence they planned to use, and have been using, the middle school as a "testing ground" to change, first the whole educational system, and then society itself. As one prominent activist, Paul George, put it, the middle school has become "the focus of societal experimentation, the vehicle for movement towards increased justice and equality in the society as a whole." This involved de-emphasizing academic achievement and focusing on alleged personal and social needs of students.

Courageous, Informed, and Timely

Cheri Yecke's explanation of the rise of mediocrity in American education is intelligent, informed, and important. The mess of American education is a kind of Gorgian knot; even well-meaning reformers often don't know where to concentrate their efforts. Yecke's explanation of the philosophical weakness of middle school identifies one of the most important strands in that intimidating knot. She will undoubtedly be criticized for her efforts: the resistance to meaningful school reform is seldom fought over "what's best for the kids"--it is most frequently a fierce battle to preserve power, turf and careers. She has made a strategic and corageous foray into occupied land on behalf of the captives: our students.

Cutting Through Herd Opinion

Should education be a great leveler, or rather a place where proclivity and genius is recognized and encouraged as an asset to the future of the community, state, and nation? This author asked herself the question and felt so strongly about her deliberations that she wrote this highly informative treatise. Her voice is impassioned and rational, a combination often not found together, and it makes her assertions quite convincing indeed.The rise of standarized testing may make the issue a moot point, however, as schools in competition with one another for federal funds and the high regard of parents may no longer be so 'progressive' about how they manifest the dubious need to socialize their students. They will perhaps begin to see through the mist of the educationally cloudy 90's that the best way to make a student feel good about himself is to instill knowedge in him, and that the best way to socialize a student is to allow her to learn the rewards of hard work and the consequences of being a slacker.This work was needed and is serving as a spearhead into the misguided folly of middle school philosophy. Read it!
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