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SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT: How the Politics of Literacy Shape Thinking in the Classroom, by Rexford Brown. (Jossey-Bass, $22.95.) Literacy, Brown convincingly argues, is not so much a matter of decoding words or stringing together grammatically correct sentences, but of "making meaning'' and "negotiating it with others.'' Without this reflective capability to solve problems, to criticize the very culture of which one is a part, students will be consigned to marginal societal roles. Yet this is precisely what is happening, as Brown discovers in travels across North America. Schools are putting a stifling emphasis on back-to-basics and rote exercises. Teachers who try to encourage a more thoughtful literacy are hampered by a school bureaucracy obsessed with test results and by their own training, which too often equates teaching with a dissemination of facts rather than an engagement with ideas. More insidious is the pervasive, if sometimes subconscious, assumption that poor minority children, unmotivated and unskilled in abstraction, cannot leap beyond the basics. This, of course, is but a self-fulfilling prophecy, as Brown demonstrates by taking us to a Toronto program where supposedly disadvantaged students, challenged to think, write stories of intelligence and imagination. David Ruenzel
The reviewer is a writer and English teacher in Milwaukee.

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