David Steiner’s book, A Nation at Thought: Restoring Wisdom in America’s Schools, released in March 2023 by Rowman & Littlefield, analyzes what has gone wrong in the American school system in spite of so much labor, investment, and good intentions. A Nation at Thought lays out what brought us to this impasse and suggests a new way forward that would require a commitment to teaching students to think, not simply to accumulate information.


This is a truly important book: Readers may not agree with all of Steiner’s arguments – but they are worthy of deep engagement and should provoke thoughtful reflection. Steiner offers keen insights about our current K-12 education system with facts, powerful vignettes, and passion. His call for a re-imagining of American public education grounded in academic rigor and more compelling instruction is both inspiring and challenging.

John King 10th U.S. Secretary of Education, President, the Education Trust

Only a writer and thinker of David Steiner’s erudition and empathy could deliver a book that lands simultaneously as both stirring encouragement and a stinging rebuke. He forces even those of us who believe we stand for high academic standards and lofty expectations for students to examine those beliefs, often uncomfortably. His message, both unsparing and optimistic, is not only that we must do better by America’s children, but that we can.

Robert Pondiscio Senior Fellow, AEI

In a day when schools are called on to serve every social and political mission our nation’s leadership can conceive, David Steiner has issued a clarion call to restore public schooling to its essence. An education, Steiner insists, is meant to build knowledge and to foster thoughtfulness. Its aspiration is for people to be wise and to be virtuous. An education system playing this role must thus have the focus and capability to emphasize learning and, yes, academic work. Steiner is unapologetic about the intellectual role schools play and about the value of intellect to a nation. His call to restore the centrality of thinking to America’s schools is a challenge to those who would use schools as vessels for all other things, from politicians to academics themselves. If you’re dissatisfied with thin, polarized debate on the direction of public education, read this book to see a better, if difficult, path forward.

John White Former Louisiana Superintendent of Education

David M. Steiner’s book, A Nation at Thought, challenged me to recognize the pablum that too often passes for education in the U.S. today, especially in our middle and high schools; explains how we arrived at this dismal state; and poses a vision for education that offers students access to happiness through a pathway of thought. Steiner’s vision provides rich examples of the type of teaching and learning students would experience if only we were brave enough to undertake the mammoth work of redesigning U.S. education to provide instruction that is “ethically inspired, aesthetically rich and academically compelling.” Only then would students—and indeed, all of us—reach the state of human flourishing.

Heather G. Peske President, National Council on Teacher Quality

There is so much wisdom to be found within these pages. Commissioner Steiner has examined our education system from so many perspectives throughout his life and career: as an Englishman and as an American, as a respected academic and from the Commissioner’s seat as a practitioner, as someone with deep respect for traditions and with a keen eye for what’s on the horizon. Here he does what he does best—interweave research, experience, and stories from schoolhouses into a compelling treatise.

Christopher N. Ruszkowski Former New Mexico Secretary of Education & CEO of Meeting Street Schools

With A Nation at Thought, David Steiner guides us through the valleys and the shadows of our current system of education, urging us to honestly confront its many disappointments and failures. But he doesn’t leave us there. By drawing on the insights and examples of great teachers, writers, and philosophers, Steiner encourages and exhorts us to climb to the heights and to take our students with us toward an education rich in wisdom and beauty which is supported by a sturdy foundation in academic excellence. We would do well to follow his good counsel.

Angel Parham Associate Professor, University of Virginia, author of American Routes: Racial Palimpsests and the Transformation of Race (Oxford, 2017)