EDUCATION NEXT /
Doomed to Fail: The Built-InDefects of American Education
by Paul A. Zoch
Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2004. 237 pp., $26.95.
As reviewed by Diane Ravitch
Paul Zoch manages to achieve whatsome might have thought impossible inthe opening words ofhis new book,
Doomed to Fail
:he criticizes the ThomasB.Fordham Foundation (Chester E.Finn Jr.) and the National Commissionon Teaching and America’s Future(Linda Darling-Hammond) for com-mitting the same error.Although thesetwo institutions are usually seen asantagonists,both,he says,blame teach-ers when students do not learn.Zochlumps together the Fordham Founda-tion report “Better Teachers,BetterSchools”and the National Commission’s“What Matters Most”as reports thatassume a direct causal relationshipbetween a teacher’s actions and the stu-dents’learning.Zoch contends that theyare both wrong.Students are responsi-ble for their learning,he writes.Iftheymake sufﬁcient effort,pay attention,dotheir homework,and exercise self-dis-cipline,they will learn.A high school teacher ofthe classicsfor nearly 20 years,Zoch has written astunning critique ofAmerican educa-tion.He shows how reform after reformhas gone forward with the same assump-tions:that students are passive recipi-ents ofinstruction,that teachers are all-powerful molders ofinert student clay,and that students have no responsibilityfor their own academic success.Ultimately,Zoch maintains,all edu-cation is self-education.The secret of academic success is no different fromsuccess in other ﬁelds ofendeavor,andit involves hard work,the will to suc-ceed,and practice,practice,practice.Yet when students fail or become bored,critics insist that it is the teacher’s fault.Zoch shows persuasively and in greatdetail that progressives derided instruc-tion but never held students account-able for their own learning;it is alwaysthe teacher who is to blame ifthe chil-dren aren’t motivated.Consequently,students have come to expect that theirteachers must entertain them.As oneofZoch’s students said to him one day,“Maybe ifyou’d sing and dance,we’dlearn this stuff.”Most ofthe book is a brilliant reca-pitulation ofthe history ofAmericaneducation,written from Zoch’s per-spective as a seasoned classroom teacher.He demonstrates convincingly thatAmerican education has been deeplyinfluenced by seemingly inconsistentphilosophies.His own personal lodestaris William James,the great Harvard psy-chologist,who understood that the keyto individual success is effort:the studentwho strives and persists in the face of challenge will succeed.James’s messageofpersonal responsibility and willpower,Zoch hastens to point out,is now con-sidered Victorian,old-fashioned,obso-lete.Yet he also notes that the studentswho “live in accordance with old-fashioned principles ofeffort and will tosucceed are the stars ofour publicschools,the usually unsung heroes whoin the future will provide the great brain-power ofour country.Such studentsare actively working to create their ownreality and destiny.”Sadly,he observes,students who live by these values learnthem at home,not at school,for ourpublic schools today are founded onan ideology diametrically opposed to James’s beliefs.The current philosophy that domi-nates American education,Zochdemonstrates,is a strange concoctionthat has produced our current woeful sit-uation.Behaviorists (James B.Watson,Edward L.Thorndike,and B.F.Skinner)encouraged the view that students weresimple,passive,and easily manipulated.According to behaviorist principles,it isno longer “incumbent upon the studentto do what is necessary to succeed,”forit is the responsibility ofthe teacher “toﬁnd the right stimulus that will cause a
Students areresponsible for theirlearning. . . . If theymake sufficient effort,pay attention,do their homework, andexercise self-discipline,they will learn.
Getting Kids to Care