Comment / Books
A LETTER TO TEACHERS: Reflections on Schooling and the Art of Teaching, by Vito Perrone. (JosseyBass, $12.95.) Early on, Perrone writes about North Dakota students who feel betrayed when they learn from a visiting speaker the full destructive capabilities of the nuclear warheads that are tucked into the surrounding prairie. Why, the students wonder, have such weapons never been a part of their studies? The problem, according to the author, is that school has long functioned as a fortress, walling off the outside world as if it would contaminate the thoroughly sanitized educational process. In this fortress, the teacher plays but a minor role, dispensing what Alfred Whitehead called "inert facts.'' Teachers, though, don't have to accept these dehumanizing conditions: Perrone encourages them to connect the school with the larger world, to take needed risks, reclaiming their profession as an art rather than a science, a studied passion rather than a series of lifeless techniques. Written with both conviction and common sense, A Letter to Teachers succeeds in refocusing our attention on the ideals rather than the pitfalls of teaching.
The reviewer, former chairman of the English department at University Lake School in Hartland, Wis., is on leave to write a novel.