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A well-stocked backpack

Books | Books for navigating classrooms and filling in the gaps

Issue: "Back to School," Aug. 27, 2011

Larry Woiwode's Words Made Fresh (Crossway, 2011) is a compilation of the noted writer's essays on literature and culture. One of them is particularly relevant to a back-to-school issue, since Woiwode eviscerates the public-school establishment for "Deconstructing God." He quotes testimony by J. Gresham Machen before Senate and House Committees in 1926 on the question of whether to create a U.S. Department of Education that could propel "uniformity in education" across this vast land: Machen said such uniformity was "the worst state into which any country can fall."

Eighty-five years later we've fallen into a pit. George Yancey's Compromising Scholarship: Religious and Political Bias in American Higher Education (Baylor U. Press, 2011) quietly documents prejudice in state and other secular schools against Christians and conservatives. In Already Compromised (MasterBooks, 2010) Ken Ham and Greg Hall zero in on Christian colleges that are becoming secular look-alikes.

Alex Chediak's Thriving at College (Tyndale, 2011) offers a commonsense approach to 10 common student mistakes concerning time management, sex, grades, relationships with parents, and other things that might seem simple but rarely are. Walter Olson's Schools for Misrule: Legal Academia and an Overlawyered America (Encounter, 2011) takes on the law schools that are fountains of arrogance and hatcheries of bad ideas like class action suits on demand, court takeovers of school funding, and transnational "rights" trumping the U.S. Constitution.

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Other bad news: Only 12 percent of high-school seniors have a minimal level of "proficiency" in history, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Good news: Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, authors of the excellent A Patriot's History of the United States, have produced a companion volume available in paperback, The Patriot's History Reader: Essential Documents for Every American (Sentinel, 2011).

David McCullough, who writes books such as 1776 that entertainingly teach history, gave The Wall Street Journal four reasons why students don't know much about it. First, personnel: "People who come out of college with a degree in education [are] often assigned to teach subjects about which they know little or nothing." Good history teachers love history, and "you can't love something you don't know any more than you can love someone you don't know."

McCullough gave "method" as another problem: "History is often taught in categories-women's history, African-American history, environmental history-so that many of the students have no sense of chronology. They have no idea what followed what." Third, many textbooks have become "so politically correct as to be comic." Fourth, "They're so badly written. They're boring!"

William Bennett's America: The Last Best Hope (three volumes) is an overall history that is not boring. And here are a few old favorites of mine: Shelby Foote's wonderful three-volume work, The Civil War; Booker T. Washington's Up from Slavery; Amity Shlaes' The Forgotten Man (a great history of the 1930s); and Whittaker Chambers' Witness, which shows how Communism's faith in Man opposes the Christian faith in God. Robert Shogan's War Without End is a readable history of the 1960s and the cultural conflicts that intensified then.

By the way, students also display a dismal knowledge of economics. Economic Facts and Fallacies (Basic, 2011, second edition) by Thomas Sowell and Back on the Road to Serfdom (ISI, 2010), edited by Thomas E. Woods Jr., may be useful here. The latter book shows that the more Washington attempts to keep the economy on an even keel, the more it develops bubbles or conditions of stagnation. (I'd add a parallel: The more some pastors criticize free markets, the more they undercut religious freedom as well.)

Comic cash cow

With graphic novels-extended comic books-economically a lake of fresh water within a parched publishing world, those who want to learn why and how to dive in should read two books by Scott McCloud: Understanding Comics and Making Comics (Harper, 1993 and 2006). I've had fun writing two graphic novels that came out last month, 2048 and Echoes of Eden, both published by Kingstone.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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