Leslie's memoir of his stint as Los Angeles Times correspondent during the last two years of U.S. involvement in Indochina is a touch unusual, for the author admits that his love/hate relationship with the war was more a matter of love. As reprinted here, his reporting of the 1972 Easter Offensive was outstanding, as were his non-combat pieces. Accompanied by an Agence France Presse reporter, Leslie scored a journalistic coup with a vist to a Viet Cong liberated zone. Eventually expelled from Vietnam ("We can accept criticism," explained a government spokesman, "but not insults"), he was reassigned to Cambodia, where he covered Phnom Penh's final days before the Khmer Rouge takeover. Leslie reveals his opinions of his colleagues, particularly Gloria Emerson ("a mournful Auntie Mame") and Sydney Schanberg ("unscrupulous"). Deprived by the peace accords of his "beloved, resplendent Vietnam War," Leslie succumbed to depression after returning to L.A. and admits that he is a not quite recovered "addict" of that experience.
The practice of sorting students by the statistical device known as the ``bell curve'' is attacked here by two education specialists who identify a host of problems associated with the ``Bell-Curve Syndrome's growing list of symptoms.'' Wallace was formerly superintendent of the Vance County School District in North Carolina, where her efforts to establish a more fluid and individualized system were thwarted. With education reporter Graves, she calls for change, citing school districts that are abandoning tracking, eliminating grade levels and attempting alternatives without lowering standards. Vehement about the ``demeaning forces'' of bell-curve ratings, Wallace describes her successes in implementing a non-traditional system of instruction: it emphasized teaching children according to their individual abilities and pleased both students and their teachers, but it threatened the power of a politically cautious school board. Case studies are included in this inspiring report on school reform. (Mar.)
For decades, the bell curve has ruled the U.S. educational system through the assumption that a majority of children are average and thus gearing group instruction toward the average level. This bell curve, the authors claim, does not recognize that human achievement is more a function of will and effort than intelligence. While many books on the bell curve are "dry"-most notably Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray's The Bell Curve (Free Pr., 1994), which the authors refute-Poisoned Apple presents an enthralling expos of the bell curve system and one educator's decision to extinguish its use in the Vance County, North Carolina school district. (Wallace is the former superintendent of the Vance County School District; Graves is an education reporter.) Interspersed throughout the narrative are basic discussions of philosophies regarding the use of the bell curve vs. alternative policies of flexibility. Even though the events in Vance County are not storybook perfect, the spark that was ignited there still glows. This is essential reading on an often controversial subject.-A.R. Huggins, Univ. of Memphis Libs.
The authors identify and examine a major underlying problem in public education, "The Bell-Curve Syndrome," wherein students are pigeonholed by age-group-based statistics and their individual strengths sacrificed to the tyranny of the average, thereby creating a system in which a certain number of children are doomed to fail. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
According to Wallace and Graves, American schools are more interested in preserving mediocrity than promoting excellence. The authors explain how the bell-curve system encourages, even necessitates, an artificial and destructive median (of mediocrity) and compels teachers to judge children on what they do not know. However, this book is not a castigation of educators or the system; it is a celebration of how Wallace, as superintendent of the most troubled school district in North Carolina, and others like her have taken steps to reject bell-curve assumptions in favor of individualized instruction in which students progress at their own pace within achievement groups, rather than age-level-defined classrooms. This is not a totally upbeat story as Wallace left the superintendency over a political dispute. Still, evidence in North Carolina and throughout the country shows promising signs of change and growth, according to these optimistic authors.