Peter Schrag

Peter Schrag, a longtime education writer and editor, is the author of Paradise Lost: California's Experience, America's Future and most recently, California: America's High-Stakes Experiment. He is a former editorial page editor of the Sacramento Bee.

Recent Articles

History's Heisenberg Principle

I n September 1941, Werner Heisenberg, at the time Germany's pre-eminent scientist and the head of its atom bomb program, traveled to Nazi-occupied Copenhagen to visit his old friend and mentor, Niels Bohr. Both were Nobel laureates; both were among the giants of modern theoretical physics. Eighteen months later, Bohr would escape and work on the Manhattan Project, helping to build a bomb for the Allies. But what happened at that meeting is still pretty much a mystery: Did Heisenberg come to pump Bohr about what he might know from his overseas contacts about any Allied bomb program? Was he there to talk about the morality of scientists engaging in work on terror weapons and thus, perhaps, to dissuade his Western counterparts from engaging in such an undertaking? Was he trying to recruit Bohr for the German bomb? Behind those questions lurks a much larger mystery that may always bedevil historians: Why did Heisenberg and the Germans never even come close to producing a bomb for Hitler...

California, Dreamed

P eople who try to get their arms around California inevitably have trouble. The place is too large, diverse, and complex; it isn't really one place at all, except maybe in the minds of outsiders. So it's not surprising that Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900-2000, the monumentally ambitious and grandly titled show that runs through February 25 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), would run into equally monumental difficulties. Even as cultural history, which is what it's intended to be, it struggles. From high art to kitsch, almost everything is represented somewhere: Richard Diebenkorn, David Hockney, and David Park paintings; reproductions of Diego Rivera murals; Ansel Adams and Carleton Watkins photographs; Arts and Crafts "bungalows" and furniture; Frank Gehry architectural designs; Chicano street paintings; pottery, lamps, and glassware; rock-band psychedelics, bathing suits, orange-crate labels, glitzed-up car bodies, Barbie...

Going Holistic

U niversity of California President Richard C. Atkinson's loud call in February for abolishing the use of the SAT I test in undergraduate admissions is likely to have a lot more significance outside the UC system than within. Atkinson's university has already spent the last four years quietly but systematically de-emphasizing the test (originally called the Scholastic Aptitude Test) in determining admissions eligibility, first by moving to admit all applicants whose grades put them in the top 4 percent of their high school classes, and more recently by placing increased emphasis on the three SAT II tests--the subject matter exams (formerly called the achievement tests) in such fields as composition, math, American history, and biology--that most UC applicants are required to take. The SAT II is now weighted three times more heavily than the SAT I in UC admissions considerations. For a test that has long been regarded as the gold standard in selective-college admissions (despite all...

Rank Class

Nicholas Lemann's The Big Test 12.02.99 | reviewed by Peter Schrag The late Albert Shanker, longtime president of the American Federation of Teachers, sometimes made the facetious suggestion that if children were all awarded college diplomas at birth, knowledge would be pursued for its own sake and a great many of the problems of American education would be eliminated. In The Big Test, Nicholas Lemann contends that the grandly conceived SAT, which 1.3 million test-obsessed American high school students now take every year to gain admission to the nation's most selective colleges, has become a flawed instrument in the creation and maintenance of a not-very-admirable, self-serving American meritocracy. Perhaps inadvertently, he seems to be making Shanker's point. Although there is a crush at elite university gates because people believe that admission can confer lifelong prestige, he says, "[T]he idea of having a general-purpose meritocratic elite generated through university admissions...

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