School's Out: The Catastrophe in Public Education and What We Can Do About It


207 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-921912-48-X
DDC 370'.971




Reviewed by Michael Kasoian

Michael Kasoian is an elementary-school principal in Burlington,


This book tells us why our schools are turning out children who can’t
read, write, add, or think, and then offers ideas for change. In
describing what is wrong in education, Nikiforuk writes about a mother
in Ontario who in 1991 posed four very important questions to her local
principal and superintendent: What are our children learning? How will
they learn it? When will they learn it? How will the teacher and the
parent know that the child has learned it? All of these questions are
difficult to answer when it comes to activity-centred learning programs,
which serve self-interests and dish out activity after activity without
providing focus, direction, and accountability.

Another major issue addressed in the book is the “Great Divorce,”
the separation between educators and parents, that has resulted in the
disintegration of communities. Spending on the North American education
system has increased significantly over the past three decades. Rather
than better education, it has given rise to increased bureaucracy,
unlimited growth, and uninvolved parents. The purpose of education—to
develop the intellect and imagination of our children—has been
overshadowed by public schools that have encouraged self-centredness and
failed to provide children with the basics they need to prepare
themselves for the future. Only in the Catholic system does the author
see schools trying to maintain their community culture and educate young
people so they can serve their communities.

Drawing upon the research of effective schools across North America,
Nikiforuk proposes the following characteristics as necessary for
successful change: focus, homework, duty and discipline, leadership,
accountability, and good teachers. His chapter “Ideas for Change”
opens opportunities for discussion on the positives and negatives of
teaching methods (phonics, whole language), media influences, size of
boards, curriculum, teacher training, trends, and standards. The
author’s views are supported in appendices that serve as a resource
guide for parents and teachers.

Do we go back to basics for reading, writing, and arithmetic, and
promote community values and involvement; or do we take on new programs,
increase our use of technology, and effectively work with the many
influences on our young people? Within the spectrum defined by these
questions lies a balance that can provide the accountability,
curriculum, character development, and good teaching practices that will
prepare our student for the future.


Nikiforuk, Andrew., “School's Out: The Catastrophe in Public Education and What We Can Do About It,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 12, 2024,