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April 1, 2001
Vol. 58
No. 7


Left Back

Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms by Diane Ravitch. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.
Having lived through many of the events that Diane Ravitch describes in Left Back, I cannot agree with her thesis that progressivism dominated and ruined public education in the 20th century. In my experience, neither the domination nor the destruction ever happened.
Ravitch considers education at the end of the 19th century to be the ideal: Any student could overcome economic, social, and racial barriers and could tap into the rich store of Western thought and moral behavior. Yet, she admits, by 1890, "less than 5 percent of adolescents went to high school and even fewer entered college." She allows that race, poverty, and location often determined a student's educational opportunities. Outside of the fact that schools were dedicated to teaching the traditional subjects, as well as discipline and patriotism—all of which Ravitch identifies with the academic tradition—no evidence supports her contention that this was the heyday of public education.
In contrast, Ravitch claims that 20th century innovations and reforms in education were the frivolous, anti-intellectual products of progressivism that denied opportunities to working class, poor, and minority students. She never acknowledges that many minor movements, such as "life adjustment" classes, were aberrations to the basic concepts of progressivism and were repudiated by John Dewey and other progressive leaders. Moreover, she ignores the fact that during the "reign" of progressivism, record numbers of students from all social and ethnic groups went on to higher education, successful careers, and rewarding lives.
Ravitch recounts in great detail what education leaders said and what bureaucrats decreed, but she does not show that progressivism had much impact on schools or students. In fact, she admits that teachers closed their doors and taught as they had been taught, that students took the courses they wanted to take, and that parents and local school boards—not education experts—decided what their schools would be like.
Published by Simon & Schuster, Rockefeller Center, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. Price: $30 hardcover, $17 paperback.
—Reviewed by Joanne Yatvin, Portland State University and Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon.

City Schools

City Schools: Lessons from New York. Diane Ravitch and Joseph P. Viteritti, Editors, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.
City Schools: Lessons from New York has much to offer anyone interested in urban education. The book confronts problems faced by urban school systems and, most particularly, by inner-city schools.
The essays in the book provide detailed data on issues about which people say, "everybody knows that," but which often remain undocumented: the way teacher contracts limit principals, the success and failure rates of programs for non-English-speaking students or special education students, and the constraints on schools within the school system. Other chapters address urban schools' socio-economic contexts and the teacher shortage crisis. A closing section deals with school choice and its status, effects, and potential for school reform.
The authors write knowledgeably, although some of them are more recognizable in fields other than urban education. Some bias appears that might be expected from the editors—support for school choice and condemnation of bureaucratized systems and some past liberal school reforms. Nevertheless, anyone who wants to better understand how urban schools work and the challenges that they confront will find this volume useful.
Published by Johns Hopkins University Press, 2715 North Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Price: $59.95 hardcover, $21.50 paperback.
—Reviewed by Mary Anne Raywid, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii.

Stealing Innocence

Stealing Innocence: Youth, Corporate Power, and the Politics of Culture by Henry A. Giroux. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.
This dense, probing book challenges educators not only in its rhetoric, but also in the conclusions that it leads them to examine and consider. Giroux warns that corporate culture increasingly seeks to "define teaching as a technical and instrumental practice rather than as a moral and political act."
Giroux explores corporate power and the culture of everyday life in relation to children. In a disturbing look at what he calls the "politics of child abuse" fostered by the corporate promotion of children as commodities, he calls us to envision the consequences of such a damaging view of young people. His conclusions are often startling, as when he observes,The advocates of corporate culture no longer view public education in terms of its civic function; rather it is primarily a commercial venture in which the only form of citizenship available for young people is consumerism.Giroux also examines the writings of Antonio Gramsci, Paulo Freire, and Stuart Hall, who believe that education should provide students with power and the means to use it.
Certainly, educators need to be concerned about the educational functioning, or malfunctioning, of culture and the tendency of dominant institutions to subvert democratic values. Giroux calls for more than mere concern. He argues for vigilance: We are right, he maintains, to continue to assert "the primacy of democratic values over corporate culture and commercial values."
Published by St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010. Price: $22.95 hardcover, $12.95 paperback.
—Reviewed by Donald C. Wesley, Orchard Park High School, Orchard Park, New York.

Education, Religion, and the Common Good

Education, Religion, and the Common Good: Advancing a Distinctly American Conversation About Religion's Role in Our Shared Life by Martin E. Marty with Jonathan Moore. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000.
In his latest book, Martin E. Marty, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago and a frequent media commentator, encourages a conversation in education, at both the national and local levels, regarding the role of religion in society. Marty argues for a dispassionate study of religion in schools, examining both its positive contributions and its negative aspects.
Issuing a challenge to educators in elementary, secondary, and higher education—both public and private—Marty asserts that students need a working knowledge of the world's religions and their impact on culture to have an accurate picture of the world. As an example, he notes that in one issue of the New York Times, 18 stories have religious overtones. How can we expect students to undertand people's actions without understanding the faith that motivates their actions, he asks.
Marty acknowledges the complications of adding the study of religion to an already overcrowded curriculum, especially when teachers are not trained to teach about religion. These challenges, however, must be overcome in the interest of a greater common good.
Published by Jossey-Bass, 350 Sansome St., San Francisco, CA 94104. Price: $23.
—Reviewed by Wayne Jacobsen, BridgeBuilders, Oxnard, California.

Jack and Jill

Jack and Jill: Why They Kill: Saving Our Children, Saving Ourselves, A Parents' Guide by James E. Shaw. Everett, WA: Onjinjinkta Publishing, 2000.
Each day in the United States, 7 children and 10 young adults are victims of homicide at the hands of other youth. James E. Shaw asks, Why do students kill? He shares insights from interviews with 103 young people ages 11–16 who have killed peers, siblings, or parents.
Two troubling themes emerge from the interviews: a perceived lack of parental love and sexual or other abuse at home. Shaw places an emphasis on the crucial role of parenting—children need guidance to develop moral and emotional intelligence and civility. Parents need to be aware of their children's needs, daily experiences, and deepest concerns—not just their grade point averages.
In chapters on bullying, depression, loneliness, and alienation, Shaw offers practical guidance to parents on shaping nonviolent children. Included are an index of symptoms of depression and advice on what to do if a child is depressed; tips on communicating with children; and principles for parenting that encourage children to be peaceful, contributing members of society.
This book affirms a commonsense approach to parenting, punctuated by horrific stories of what can happen when adults fail children. Educators may find themselves recommending this book to parents and others who are deeply concerned about youth violence.
Published by Onjinjinkta Publishing, 908 S.E. Everett Mall Way, Ste. A120, Everett, WA 98208. Price: $19.95.
—Reviewed by Jacquelyn G. Sowers, Sowers Associates, Hampton, New Hampshire.

Education and the Soul

Education and the Soul: Toward a Spiritual Curriculum by John P. Miller. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999.
Many educators believe that teaching and learning should become more spiritually sustaining for students and teachers alike. In this well-researched, passionate plea for restoring a balance and connection between the inner and outer life, John P. Miller provides a theoretical framework and practical ideas for nurturing the inner life at school.
Miller's first principle of soulful learning is that the sacred and the secular cannot be separated. When pedagogy attempts to compartmentalize the inner life, students and teachers lose "a vital energy that brings purpose and meaning to life" and learning. Beginning with an informative review of how the world's great religious and philosophical traditions have understood the soul, Miller offers rich examples and guidelines for integrating the inner life into the classroom, the school, and teacher training.
Miller describes an approach to professional development that allows teachers to discover how a disciplined cultivation of their own authentic and caring presences can revitalize them and nurture their students' souls. He provides tools for teachers who want to slow down, listen, and gain deep understandings of themselves, their subject matter, and their students.
Readers eager to adapt Miller's practices for infusing soul into the curriculum may want to exercise caution. Although Miller acknowledges that each teacher must judge what is appropriate for his or her school community, he doesn't identify which of these techniques and concepts might be considered disrespectful of certain worldviews.
Published by State University of New York Press, 90 State St., Ste. 700, Albany, NY 12207. Price: $44.50 hardcover, $14.95 paperback.
—Reviewed by Rachael Kessler, Institute of Social and Emotional Learning, Boulder, Colorado.

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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