"As a result of these relational changes, all students will have stronger ties to their communities as a whole, and community organizations and business will invest more concertedly in local education."

In this groundbreaking book about one of America’s biggest societal flashpoints, the author discusses “an education system that entirely misunderstood children, treating each child as an identical blank slate ready for the impress of knowledge.” In these pages, readers discover alternative ways to define what it means to be successful and educated. The book also challenges them to rethink their basic assumptions about education in order to begin transforming not only it but also society. Additionally, the book takes a careful look at how students have disengaged from school settings over the last fifteen years. Its research correlates the rise in increasingly evident disruptive behaviors with this disengagement. Meanwhile, the book examines paths forward, such as lab schools which offer students and educators alike a rapid transformation in their learning.

This work examines the educational areas, such as skill sets, in which American education systems need the most radical transformation. The book also posits that the current education system molds students early on to believe they are either “smart” or “dumb.” They form this determination based on what skill sets the educational system values and on which it places higher social values. The book also takes a look at the Denver Public Schools project known as “the Imaginarium.” This project created “a new setting for trying out new ideas in education,” but it failed because it turned “meaningful ideas” like personalized learning, equity, and innovation “into meaningless buzzwords.”

Hansen’s book centers around diversity, equity, and inclusion, and it does not shy away from discussing how current educational systems put black, brown, and refugee students at a disadvantage. The author approaches this critique from her position “as a woman of color working on public education in America.” She suggests that current educational models, especially in the last fifteen years, have punished more black and brown students than white students because of expulsion and detention policies. Using the context of educating refugees, the author also explores how another controversial educational area—that of standard testing—places students at a disadvantage since all students cannot learn in a standardized environment. Along with these concepts, Hansen’s book discusses the mental health crises currently ravaging school systems that are understaffed and ill-trained to deal with such situations.

This important and timely book is filled with easy-to-understand guides and charts, which makes the theories, facts, and cases it presents navigable for readers of all backgrounds. For parents interested in transforming their child’s education, the author includes a helpful list of examples of human-centered/liberatory programs offered in the United States. For teachers who believe that education is more than teaching to a standardized test, this book provides evolutionary insights that teachers and administrators can begin to easily apply in order to transform their schools. Hansen’s book would make a great resource for discussion groups, educator book clubs, and education think tanks. It will also motivate teachers to continue working in a profession swiftly losing respect throughout the United States because it offers faculty something very few other educational texts offer: hope. For those concerned about the problems of education in America and wonder how to best combat them, Hansen’s book is a must-read.

A 2023 Eric Hoffer Book Award Category Finalist

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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