Why School?

Reclaiming Education for All of Us

A powerful and timely exploration of this country’s public education goals, and how they are put into practice, by the award-winning author and educator

“I ask how to educate a vast population, what to teach and how, who will do it, what the work will mean. We still ask these questions because we haven’t satisfactorily answered them. And the way we answer them says a lot about who we are—and what we want to become.” —from Why School?

In the tradition of Jonathan Kozol, this little book is driven by big questions. What does it mean to be educated? What is intelligence? How should we think about intelligence, education, and opportunity in an open society? Why is a commitment to the public sphere central to the way we answer these questions?

Drawing on forty years of teaching and research, from primary school to adult education and workplace training, award–winning author Mike Rose reflects on these and other questions related to public schooling in America. He answers them in beautifully written chapters that are both rich in detail—a first-grader conducting a science experiment, a carpenter solving a problem on the fly, a college student’s encounter with a story by James Joyce—and informed by a deep and powerful understanding of history, the psychology of learning, and the politics of education.

Rose decries the narrow focus of educational policy in our time: the drumbeat of test scores and economic competition. Why School? will be embraced by parents and teachers alike, and readers everywhere will be captivated by Rose’s eloquent call for a bountiful democratic vision of the purpose of schooling.



“I interviewed Mike Rose twenty years ago for my series World of Ideas. He was already on the path to becoming one of our most exciting thinkers about education in the lives of marginalized people. He lives in the real world, and this new book—slim and vividly written—is an inspiration for how to cope with it in our classrooms.”
Bill Moyers Journal
“Rose gives a larger sense of the interplay between what happens in the classroom and the world outside school . . . [and] a capacious sense of what can happen within the interior world of the classroom.”
The New York Review of Books
“A must read. This is a beautifully written work. . . . Mike Rose draws on over forty years of teaching experience and research, weaving memoir and policy discussion together in this moving call for a humane approach to education that accounts for the needs of every child.”
The Christian Science Monitor
“Rose invites parents, community members, and other stake holders to join the conversation orbiting our educational system and reclaim it in the name of democracy and equity. . . . Rose profiles remarkable teachers, engaged students, and blossoming schools. His descriptions of each are underlined by his conviction that learning, as a human endeavor . . . is magnificent. It is wondrous.”
In These Times
“Aims to reinvigorate a discussion on the value of education in a democracy . . . strongly advocates for education that values reflection, curiosity, and imagination rather than the quantifiable measures favored by economics.”
“One of the most insightful, challenging, honest, helpful, and encouraging books I’ve read in many years.”
—Joe Nathan, director, Center for School Change, University of Minnesota
“Mike Rose is once again at his most bold and brilliant. My favorite parts are the vivid details of classroom life, but Rose’s broad scope reaches far beyond the schools and asks essential questions of the meaning of ‘a good society’ in the great tradition of John Dewey. Rose is a rare treasure in this dreary moment of debate along the dismal flatlands of education discourse. He brings us to the mountaintops.”
—Jonathan Kozol, author of The Shame of a Nation and Letters to a Young Teacher
“Rose puts into clear words what so many of us feel is lacking in our children’s education. . . . [He] recalibrates our thinking in this little book, the first step toward change.”
Los Angeles Times
“A compact and potent collection of essays.”
The Nation
“Eloquent . . . Rose’s collection is filled with stories of students and teachers working together in ways that dispel stereotypes about what is possible in the inner city classroom or the remedial college writing class. ‘We have lost our way,’ he writes in the book‘s opening pages, because our vision of what public education can and should be has become too small.”
The Progressive
“Rose illuminates the ethical stance and the implied moral contract at the heart of teaching, [and] he encourages us to think deeply about what we want our schools to do and be . . . Why School? is essential reading. [It] is crisp, concise, lively.”
Rethinking Schools

News and Reviews

In Memoriam

Read a remembrance of award-winning writer and educator Mike Rose.

Books by Mike Rose

Back to School
Why Everyone Deserves a Second Chance at Education

Mike Rose

Goodreads Reviews