Checking Out: ‘Schools for a New Century’

By Hannah Evans

As schools settle into somewhat of a routine once again, both at the end of this year’s back to school season and in a broader sense after the chaos and disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, local historian and author Phil Goodstein has released his newest title on the Denver Public School system.

Hannah Evans

“Schools for a New Century: 1995-2020,” (2022, New Social Publications), is the third volume of Goodstein’s “The History of Denver Public Schools” series that takes a deep dive into the system’s recent past from the court ordered end of bussing into the beginning of the COVID-19 closure.

The end of bussing claimed to come at a period when DPS had successfully integrated its student body, but time showed the system to be more segregated than ever, both racially and socioeconomically.

The implementation and spread of standardized testing and school grading systems fueled anxiety over achievement, but as Goodstein notes, “Rather than observing that the schools were very much part of the larger community whereby their performance reflects the values and commitments of society as a whole, many blamed the schools for the result.”

Business interests and politically motivated groups moved in on the opportunity to push individual agendas advertised as the answers to education problems, but results have proven time and again to be mixed at best.

Goodstein’s newest work is an extremely in depth look at a fairly recent point in our city’s history. As he discloses, the volume does strongly reflect his personal views. He elaborates: “Schools must not be education factories. On the contrary, they should be places nurturing youngsters … they need to be a democratic community reflecting the give-and-take of a pluralistic society. This requires treating students as respected citizens rather than herding them about in a semi-prison-like setting.”

His critical eye of the school system is ever-present in his writing, but is highly supported by a wealth of information. Details such as the mascots, namesakes of each school, and the racial makeup of student bodies over time share space with the results of school board elections, the political ties of superintendents, financial woes and varied attempts at securing funding, and the opinions and frustrations of countless interviewed parties.

The lowdown on the local school system may seem like a niche topic, but “Schools for a New Century” argues that our education system reflects our community as a whole. While the simple answer as to why everyone should care about our schools regardless of if we have children in them or not is that our community is and will continue to be made up of products of the local education system, the reasons go even further.

Education has and continues to be politicized, and elected officials far beyond the school board influence our public schools to a greater and greater extent. Goodstein’s book illuminates this not-too-distant history into the present, serving as both a work of historic reference and a reflection on the state of local education.

Check out all volumes of “The History of Denver Public Schools” series from Phil Goodstein at your closest Denver Public Library location. Goodstein will also be at the Smiley Branch Library at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 3. to discuss his newest title. Books will be available for purchase.

Hannah Evans is the senior librarian at the Smiley Branch of the Denver Public Library.


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