Evaluation of “This Book is Not Required”

“Why does our school function this way? Why is intellectual curiosity regularly killed in order to teach discipline? Why do our school give even seven-year-olds failing grades? Whenever sociologists see a system continually operating in “dysfunctional” ways, they suggest that perhaps we have not discovered the “real” function of the system. A hint is given here in the fact that the only schools which don’t beat up their students emotionally are a few private and public schools which serve the rich. The real purpose of school is to make people obedient to authority. The mindlessness of school is meant to prepare us for the mindlessness of most jobs. And, perhaps, most importantly, it is the job of schools to convince those who have lousy jobs that their fate is their own fault…that that just weren’t smart enough (translate, deserving enough) to do any better.”

From: “This Book is not Required” by Inge Bell and Bernard McGraine (1985)1

Going to college is something very important for an American student as it changes his way of life and his habits. He has to leave his home, be on his own, and manage his own time. If he wants to get a job, however, going to college is not optional. It is required prerequisite to get hired.


Dr. Bernard McGraine and Dr. Inge Bell invite us to look at the existing college education: what it could be, and what, alas, it often is. They describe college as a place populated by people who seek out lives of quiet desperation. In addition to the racial aspects, college culture in a way they view it is a fascinating conglomeration of people originating from many parts of the world, all bent on surviving and getting ahead. It is a place where people have forgotten who they are or what they want. In fact, they voluntarily let outside influences dictate them what to want and how to acquire it. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

McGraine and Bell point out these troubling features in the hopes of waking up the college students, who have been hypnotized to believe in other people’s convictions, not their own. But none choose to listen to their unsettling words. Specifically, they beg for college professors to understand how much harm they are doing to their students – how scolding and making learning punitive injures young people the rest of their lives.

In their book McGraine and Bell beg for the parents to love their children without reserve instead of relinquishing their dangling pity for the cost of a college acceptance letter. They ask society not to prioritize individual/monetary/status achievement so that people do not end up as lonely withered versions of their younger selves with nothing to be proud of but a padded bank account. But students still thrive on hurting themselves in the name of progress. They are taught to compete and feel briefly satisfied only after they have outscored their rival. They are taught and conditioned to turn a blind eye to learning in school, for the sake of copying, memorizing and getting the regurgitated A+. Then, after a short lived celebration, they begin to compete again for the acceptance of the next level of school and then the high paying, prestigious job, etc. All the while, they neglect their own mental health and whatever other negligible things like friends, family, life itself… 2

College students are strongly intensified to fit into this mentally suicidal way of life. We may often hear phrases like, “That’s the way life is” or “No pain no gain.” The controlling powers of college have a million other means of keeping their well-oiled machine in working order.3 It is being assumed that they have soldiers dressed in civilian clothing watching for any potential wrenches or sabots. 4No one ever dares to stray from the path in fear of persecution from their well-institutionalized family and friends.

College students inevitably end up exhausted left with nothing but a feeling of empty achievement. No good friends to make fun with, maybe a dysfunctional family to beat on. The kicker lies here, though. College students are unable to see what occurred in the past causing them to end up miserable as they are today. They unintentionally pass the same wayward values of achievement to their children with the hopes that maybe if their kids get into Harvard or make enough money, they might be happy. Such perception is obviously deceptive, but it’s an exclusive circle and goes round and round…5


The fact that educational systems in capitalist societies have been highly unequal is generally admitted and widely condemned. Yet educational inequalities are taken as passing phenomena, holdovers from an earlier, less enlightened era, which are rapidly being eliminated.6

The history of education in the United States and examination of the present state college system gives little support to this comforting optimism. The available data demonstrates an alternative interpretation. Samuel Bowles in the book The Political Economy of Education in America puts the following arguments:

(1) schools have evolved in the United States not as part of a pursuit of equality, but rather to meet the needs of capitalist employers for a disciplined and skilled labor force, and to provide a mechanism for social control in the interests of political stability;

(2) as the economic importance of skilled and well-educated labor has grown, inequalities in the school system have become increasingly important in reproducing the class structure from one generation to the next;

(3) the U.S. school system is pervaded by class inequalities, which have shown little sign of diminishing over the last half century; and

(4) the evidently unequal control over school boards and other decision-making bodies in education does not provide a sufficient explanation of the persistence and pervasiveness of inequalities in the school system.7

Although the unequal allocation of political power serves to preserve inequalities in educational system, the roots of these inequalities are to be found outside the political sphere, “in the class structure itself and in the class subcultures typical of capitalist societies.”8

Due to the relative ease of measurement, inequalities in years of schooling are particularly evident. According to Samuel Bowles, if we define social-class standing by the income, occupation, and educational level of the parents, “a child from the 90th percentile in the class distribution may expect on the average to achieve over four and a half more years of schooling than a child from the 10th percentiles”.9

Social inequalities during a certain period of schooling received arise partly because a disproportionate number of children from poorer families did not complete high school. These inequalities are reinforced by social inequalities in college attendance among those children who did graduate from high school.10

Because schooling, particularly at the college level, is heavily subsidized by the general taxpayer, those children who go to school longer have therefore an access to a far larger amount of public resources than those who are forced out of school or who drop out early. But social inequalities in public expenditure on education are far more severe than the degree of inequality in years of schooling would suggest.11 As Samuel Bowles writes, “in the first place, per-student public expenditure in four-year colleges greatly exceeds that in elementary schools; those who stay in school longer receive an increasingly large annual public subsidy.; second, even at the elementary level, schools attended by children of the poor tend to be less well endowed with equipment, books, teachers, and other in- puts into the educational process.”12 This evidently indicates that both school expenditures and more direct measures of school quality vary directly with the income levels of the communities in which the school is located.

Samuel Bowles also comments that “the various socialization patterns in schools attended by students of different social classes do not arise by accident, rather, they stem from the fact that the educational objectives and expectations of both parents and teachers, and the responsiveness of students to various patterns of teaching and control, differ for students of different social classes.”13 Obviously, talking about encouragement of students to study and become educated, this data indicates that not only American college system experiences internal professor-student-community problems; it is also inefficient in motivating all social classes to participate in the educational process.


By the end of the 19th century, the number of women students had increased greatly. Higher education was expanded, in fact, by the rise of women’s colleges and the admission of women to regular colleges and universities. In 1870 an estimated one fifth of resident college and university students were women.14 By 1900 the proportion had increased to more than one third.15

Women obtained 19 percent of all undergraduate college degrees around the beginning of the 20th century.16 By 1984 the numbers have sharply increased to 49 percent.17 Women also increased their numbers in graduate study. By the mid-1980s women were earning 49 percent of all master’s degrees and about 33 percent of all doctoral degrees.18 In 1985 about 53 percent of all college students were women, more than one quarter of whom were above age 29.19

A recent study20 of the way education contributes to the women’s success outlines a number of key institutional trends of colleges:

  • Visionary leadership committed to the education of women
  • Critical mass of women in all constituencies (students, faculty, boards of trustees, etc.)
  • Belief in women’s capacities and high expectations
  • Places and spaces for women’s voices to be heard
  • Opportunities for women’s leadership in all aspects of institutional life
  • Celebration of traditions and institutional history
  • High degree of trust and responsibility
  • Active and empowering alumnae association

Nonetheless, women and other social minorities still face the issues of unequal treatment since the listed trends are still not being practiced at every higher educational institute.


Defenders of the educational system are forced back on the assertion that things are getting better, that inequalities of the past were far worse. And, indeed, some of the inequalities of the past have undoubtedly been resolved. Yet, new inequalities have apparently developed to take their place, for the available historical evidence gives little support to the idea that our schools are on the road to equality of educational opportunity. For example, data from a recent U.S. Census survey indicate that graduation from college has become increasingly dependent on one’s class background.21

On other hand, we should not overlook some internal college system shortcomings. The idea of college as a prison of mind and spirit has gained much support recently. This couldn’t take place unless it did have some significant background. In his speech on accepting 1991 New York State teacher of the year award John Taylor Gatto said the following: “Teaching means different things in different places, but seven lessons are universally taught from Harlem to Hollywood Hills. They constitute a national curriculum you pay for in more ways than you can imagine, so you might as well know what it is. . . . 1. Confusion. 2. Class Position. 3. Indifference. 4. Emotional Dependency. 5. Intellectual Dependency. 6. Provisional Self-Esteem. 7. One Can’t Hide… It is the great triumph of compulsory government monopoly mass-schooling that only a small number can imagine a different way to do things.” 22

Eric Boyd makes it a point that all four of the presidents whose faces are carved on the side of Mt. Rushmore had less classroom schooling before college than any of today’s fifth graders. Theodore Roosevelt, winner of the Nobel Prize, was entirely home schooled.23 All four of those men were considerably more literate than most of today’s high school, or even college, graduates. The class system injures the rapid and quick-thinking pupils, because these must shackle their stride to keep pace with the mythical average. But the class system does a greater injury to the large number who make slower progress than the rate of the mythical average pupil…24 They are foredoomed to failure before they begin.


  1. Inge Bell, Bernard McGraine. “This Book is not Required” 2002.
  2. Lawrence L.U. What in the world – Inversia. The Worldly. Retrieved at: http://www.worldlymag.com/Page.ap?ID=215
  3. Lawrence L.U. What in the world – Inversia.
  4. Lawrence L.U. What in the world – Inversia.
  5. Lawrence L.U. What in the world – Inversia.
  6. Samuel Bowles. “Unequal Education and the Reproductive of the Social Division of Labor”/The Political Economy of Education in America, 2d ed. McKay, 1975.
  7. Samuel Bowles.
  8. Samuel Bowles.
  9. Samuel Bowles.
  10. Samuel Bowles.
  11. Samuel Bowles.
  12. Samuel Bowles.
  13. Samuel Bowles.
  14. Women’s History in America Presented by Women’s International Center. Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia. Compton’s NewMedia, Inc. 1995.
  15. Women’s History in America.
  16. Women’s History in America.
  17. Women’s History in America.
  18. Women’s History in America.
  19. Women’s History in America.
  20. Tidball, E., Smith, D., Tidball, C., and L. Wolf-Wendel. 1999. Taking Women Seriously: Lessons and Legacies for Educating the Majority. American Council on Education. Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx Press
  21. Samuel Bowles.
  22. John Taylor Gatto, speech on accepting 1991 New York State teacher of the year award.
  23. Eric Boyd. Forum discussion on schooling system in the U.S. Retrieved at: http://www.lucifer.com/virus/virus.37/3400.html
  24. Eric Boyd.

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