PEDAGOGY OF THE CITY, by Paulo Freire. (Continuum, $17.95.) Over the last 30 years, few writers have done more to reinvigorate progressivism on an international scale than the Brazilian writer and scholar Paulo Freire. From his early days as a teacher of Portuguese, through his years in exile (1964-1980), to his tenure as Sao Paulo Secretary of Education (1988-1991), Freire has always insisted that education is essentially political--a matter not only of what content is taught to whom but also of just how that knowledge is conveyed. Conservatives interested in sustaining the status quo, he argues in this book of interviews, see education in terms of a "banking pedagogy,'' that is, they want to "deposit'' knowledge into the minds of students, presenting this knowledge as something of immutable value. Progressives wanting to empower the disenfranchised, on the other hand, enable their students to understand that knowledge is in fact constructed by people and "that the world that is being presented as given is, in fact, a world being made and, for this very reason, can be...reinvented.'' In short, conservatives want students to accept reality while progressives want to help them remake it in their own terms. Abstract as all this may seem, an acquaintance with Freire's ideas, which he put into practice with desperately poor Brazilian students, can affect a teacher's everyday attitudes. Teachers of the impoverished may be more respectful of their students' life experiences. And an acceptance of Freire's premise that teaching is an open-ended process of discovery rather than a predetermined routine can save one from burnout. Freire himself recalls having taught the same grammar content in five different morning classes, saying, "It was possible and necessary to move myself in different times with the same joy and the same curiosity of someone who learns from teaching. The teacher has a duty to 'relive,' to be 'reborn' in each moment of his or her practice.'' While an exacting theorist, Freire is no pedant--as an administrator he built new schools and repaired dilapidated ones. And he speaks with a conviction borne of trial that compels even his opponents to confront his views.
TIME TO CHOOSE: America at the Crossroads of School Choice Policy, by Amy Stuart Wells. (Hill and Wang, $25.) A major impetus behind the national push for virtually unrestricted school choice is the belief that it would force sluggish public schools to improve in order to compete for students. The students, benefiting from more rigorous academic preparation, would in turn be better able to compete in a worldwide economy. Wells, in a painstaking analysis of a complex subject (there are a bewildering multitude of choice plans), takes issue with this argument. Scrutinizing Minnesota's comprehensive choice plan, which permits students to leave one school district to attend a school in another, Wells marshals evidence indicating that parents and their children too often choose new schools because of better facilities and sports teams. Furthermore, the state does not generally pick up transportation costs, a factor that favors wealthier parents. Equity issues aside, Wells also raises important questions about some choice advocates' view of education as essentially preparation for economic success. What, she asks, about the democratic notion of education for the common good? And what about education for individual growth--growth that cannot be reduced to mere economic preparedness? Wells worries that these ideals would be lost in a choice set-up that is primarily entrepreneurial. Her own preference is for controlled choice that strikes "a delicate balance between parents' rights to choose...and society's obligation to distribute educational opportunities more equally.'' She cautiously offers the Cambridge (Mass.) Public Schools as a model that sustains equitable desegregation by, among other things, duplicating the more popular magnet programs and providing parent-information centers. Unfortunately, controlled choice is extremely expensive--well over $9,000 per child in Cambridge. One wonders if the social engineering fair choice plans seem to require is affordable or even desirable. Still, Time to Choose succeeds in that it's likely to make those entrenched on both sides of the issue reconsider their positions.
THE HOME ENVIRONMENT AND SCHOOL LEARNING: Promoting Parental Involvement in the Education of Children, by Thomas Kellaghan, Kathryn Sloane, Benjamin Alvarez, and Benjamin Bloom. (Jossey-Bass, $28.95.) This synthesis of research on the influence of the home on schooling is full of statements like this: "Reading books was the out-of-school activity that proved to have the strongest association with reading proficiency.'' In short, the study wields few surprising conclusions: Children will benefit when raised in homes that encourage intellectual development. To overcome the discontinuity between what children fail to learn at home and what they must learn at school, the authors essentially advocate intervention programs in which a facilitator works with parents on developing learning strategies beneficial to their children. But won't adding another layer of "experts'' further bureaucratize the schools? And to what extent should schools adapt to families rather than vice versa? These are questions that need further exploration.--David Ruenzel