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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
May 1, 1996
Vol. 53
No. 8

Reviews: Summer Picks

All professionals feel pressure to stay current. Besides lengthy to-do lists, there are always mountains of books to read. Summertime usually offers educators more hours for reading. Where to start? This list is not touted as "The 10 Best Education Books," but are "Steller picks."

1. Leadership for the Schoolhouse

Leadership for the Schoolhouse: How Is It Different? Why Is It Important? by Thomas Sergiovanni. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996), $28.95.
Thomas Sergiovanni packs large meeting rooms at conferences because he appeals to both the mind and the heart. In the conclusion of a trilogy (Moral Leadership and Building Community in Schools were the first two books), he likewise inspires his readers to reflect upon a new theory of leadership. Debunking the popular belief that leadership models from other organizations can be readily imported to the schoolhouse, Sergiovanni nevertheless urges study of these leadership designs as providing possible planks for creation of a new approach.
His vision of leadership for schools as a unique venture has its roots in the democratic legacy. Serving the common good, encouraging unity, ministering to needs, and assisting people to resolve problems are the virtues sought in this leadership model. In brief, leadership as pedagogy is his wonderful and apropos image for schools. Sergiovanni gives educators a powerful template for crafting responsible and humane schools.

2. The Courageous Follower

The Courageous Follower: Standing Up To and For Our Leaders by Ira Chaleff. (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Inc., 1995), $24.95.
By definition, leaders must have followers. Yet until now there has been no significant treatise outlining the challenges and opportunities of followership. I even contemplated writing such a handbook myself. Ira Chaleff not only beat me to the proverbial punch, but his remarkable insights left me in awe.
Most of us perceive being a follower as a passive activity. Not so, writes this exciting author. In fact, leaders benefit from aggressive followers who have the courage to assume responsibility to serve well, to challenge leaders, to participate in transformation, and, as tribute to their values, the courage to leave. The moral compass of both leaders and followers ought to be pointed to the common exalted purpose.

3. Habits of Mind

Habits of Mind: Struggling Over Values in America's Classrooms by Melinda Fine. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc., 1995). $25.
Controversy hangs over much of what American public schools ought to teach and how it should be taught. In alternate chapters, Melinda Fine vividly portrays the widely acclaimed and equally criticized instructional program "Facing History and Ourselves" in an actual classroom. As these middle school students learn how to debate the underlying conflicts of cultural values within the context of the American experience, they're preparing for future citizenship. Readers will cheer them on.
Every other chapter describes heated battles over who controls moral and citizenship education in our schools. These political rituals of policymaking are both messy and nasty—a far cry from the more enlightened and democratic spirited discourse practiced in the Facing History and Ourselves classroom. The dichotomy is provocative. The struggle for a tolerant and just society will be won by educators who nurture the meaning of pluralism within their charges.

4. Fist Stick Knife Gun

Fist Stick Knife Gun by Geoffrey Canada. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995), $20.
The stark reality of violence in America is chilling. Few of us have to confront daily fears about our personal safety, unlike many children and adults surrounded by poverty. Hence, the most dangerous period in our history may be ready to explode as a result of complacency, overly simplistic proposals ("Just Say No"), unforeseen consequences of well-intended programs, and plain ignorance about the struggle.
Fist Stick Knife Gun is a touching and riveting account of urban violence. Geoffrey Canada's retelling of his journey growing up scared in the South Bronx, going to college at upscale Bowdoin College, and eventually returning to New York City to work as a child advocate has a mesmerizing quality, laced with hope. The rituals of survival in the inner city he describes are compelling and understandable. This book should be required reading for policymakers and educators.

5. Leading with Soul

Leading with Soul: An Uncommon Journey of Spirit by Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc., 1995), $19.50.
If leadership is indeed teaching, then Leading with Soul will become a classic. A wayward leader seeking to regain a sense of purpose beyond the obsession for profits is one of the main characters in this parable. He is the student. His teacher, a retired businesswoman, is the other leading character in this compelling story. The relationship they forge exemplifies good teaching and storytelling.
Spirituality is the wellspring for leadership in this uplifting tale. "Perhaps we lost our way when we forgot that the heart of leadership lies in the hearts of leaders." Educators will be captivated with relearning how to breathe new vigor into their lives by searching inward for leadership.

6. Dumbing Down Our Kids

Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can't Read, Write, or Add by Charles Sykes. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995). $23.95.
Progressive educators are advised that Dumbing Down Our Kids may be hazardous to your health—mental health, that is. Charles Sykes grabbed national attention with Profscam, a feat he is replicating with this scathing indictment of U.S. schools, public and private. The educational establishment might like to ignore this book; however, it is a bestseller among conservatives everywhere. Sykes is a master at provocation and reciting shocking anecdotes. He takes some specific educators by name, the profession as a whole, some organizations, and numerous practices to the woodshed.
This book is essential reading and should be approached with an open mind—as hard as that might be. "Educationists" will be infuriated, as will nearly everyone else who reads it, although the reasons for the response will spring from different places. Some persons will read Sykes to "know the enemy," others to confirm their own ideology. Either way, he makes some points that must be addressed.

7. Will We Be Smart Enough?

Will We Be Smart Enough? A Cognitive Analysis of the Coming Workforce by Earl Hunt. (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1995), $42.20.
Workers of the future will face far different challenges than employees did in the past. Individuals "smart enough" to keep up with the technological and intellectual demands will be in short supply. The educational and vocational systems must dramatically upgrade our individual and collective cognitive capacities.
This is not the standard book pleading for more computers in classrooms. This is a clarion call for a fundamental advancement in human cognitive abilities. Hunt reviews volumes of demographic, sociological, psychological, and productivity data in a sophisticated and highly technical fashion. Some readers will likely avoid the mathematical formulas—although these very skills are representative of the needed "smarts" to transform the educational process. Truly fascinating reading. Educators should heed the call!

8. The Basic School

The Basic School: A Community for Learning by Ernest Boyer (Princeton, N.J.: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1995), $12.
Ernest Boyer's last book is a fitting tribute to his career and his vision for schooling. Starting with the question, "What does it mean to be an educated person, anyway?" Boyer wrote a 1979 article for the New York Times recommending a reorganization of schooling along the lines of The Basic School, the Common School, and the Transition School. The Basic School expands that notion with a full-fledged program resting on a foundation of community, curriculum, coherence, climate, and character.
Professionals will love this book as their gift from this educator's educator. The principles of good learning and teaching are woven together in a pattern suitable for any elementary school with children as the focus. Innovative concepts such as embedding student assessment in each lesson plan are side-by-side with sound traditional thinking. Boyer discusses such grouping strategies as mixed-age cooperative learning, focused coaching, independent study, and all-school sessions for community building. The last line is most fitting: "The Basic School is about helping each child build a life as if it were a work of art."

9. Breaking Ranks

Breaking Ranks: Changing an American Institution by National Association of Secondary School Principals (Reston, Va.: NASSP, 1996), $19.50.
High school principals want to change their schools from the inside out. At least that is what a two-year commission of the National Association of Secondary School Principals recommends for its members. What a switch from reforms being dropped off at the school doorstep like an abandoned infant. The potential of 5,000 practicing high school principals considering this set of 80 suggestions may be the best chance yet to change an institution that has resisted numerous reform efforts.
Professional educators will disagree on the efficacy of some of the specifics. There can be little doubt, however, that the thrust of this report is to transform high schools into self-renewing, student-centered learning communities. Sample recommendations include: a personal progress plan and a personal adult advocate for each student, a core curriculum, increased staff development, year-round schools, limiting pupil-teacher ratios to 90:1, and so on. Study groups will enjoy questioning and discussing Breaking Ranks.

10. The Road Ahead

The Road Ahead by Bill Gates (New York: Viking Penguin, 1995). $29.95 for book and CD.
Microsoft, Bill Gates, and the fact that proceeds of this book's sales will fund a grant for technology in education are three good reasons for buying this book. It offers highly readable content about the information highway, exciting future software opportunities, and a chapter labeled "Education, The Best Investment."
Gates provides an abbreviated account of the origin of Microsoft, as well as a capsule view of the development of computers. Although there are more ambitious views of how technology can influence and support education, it is reassuring that the world's software king believes computer learning will be a springboard to learning away from the computer. Gates has the resources and command of the marketplace to move his field in whatever direction he wants. By reading about his ideas, perhaps we can move our field of education in the right direction.

Arthur Steller has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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