ED SCHOOL FOLLIES: The Miseducation of America’s Teachers, by Rita Kramer. (Free Press, $22.95.) Early in her visits to education schools around the country, Kramer listens to prospective teachers at Columbia University invoke caring, sharing, and compassion as their raison d’tre. One woman even asserts that she plans “to teach peace.’' Such high-mindedness, it becomes apparent, is characteristic of both elite and undistinguished institutions; teachers, we learn, are trained less as purveyors of knowledge than as social workers-cumtherapists who “facilitate’’ creative thinking. Professors, believing that teachers should be guides rather than authority figures, frequently divide their classes into small groups where people “share’’ their feelings about teaching. This cooperative model, which is to be duplicated in elementary and secondary schools, turns the classroom into a kind of sensitivity workshop in which the teachers’ primary goal is to foster social interaction and self-esteem. Because criticism can be damaging to a child’s self-esteem, teachers are commonly encouraged to reward effort and participation rather than achievement, even disregarding tests with too many failures. The problem with this emphasis on well-being, Kramer argues, is that it promotes feeling over learning; while we worry about “life adjustment,’' Japanese and European students gain mastery over difficult subjects. And while education schools continually talk about higherthinking skills, Kramer wryly points out that few of their students have anything to think about, their own educations having left them illequipped in the “content’’ areas. Finally, Ed School Follies is an attack on a teacher-training system that confounds idealism with naivet, imagining that it must transform lives when teaching children is difficult enough.
SOS: Sustain Our Schools, by Patricia Alberg Graham. (Hill and Wang, $22.95.) Americans, frustrated by inadequate schools, like to imagine a golden age of schooling to which we can return. But Graham, former dean of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, quickly disabuses us of this notion, arguing that the public school from its very conception was primarily a sorting mechanism, mandating attendance for all while reserving achievement for a select few. What we need, the author insists, is not nostalgia for an idealized past but radically reshaped schools in which everyone can achieve. We must come to believe that hard work rather than innate ability determines academic success; more substantially, the schools must surmount bureaucratic and financial limitations, offering families such things as health and day care options. While the reader sympathizes with Graham’s egalitarian goals, one wonders about the feasibility of her solutions, which depend a great deal on government intervention and expanded education research in a time of budgetary constraints. Furthermore, her reliance on “experts’'--researchers, curriculum specialists, and the like--would seem to foster the very kind of bureaucratic superstructure she hopes to dispel.
SCHOOLHOUSE POLITICS: Lessons from the Sputnik Era, by Peter Dow. (Harvard, $34.95.) This fascinating book is an account of the development, implementation, and collapse during the 1960s of an anthropology course for 10-year-olds titled “Man: A Course of Study’'--MACOS. The course, representing the combined efforts of diverse scholars, was remarkable in that it had children working much as professional anthropologists; they studied not remote textbooks but original sources--films, maps, poetry, etc.--that had them piecing together often disparate information. Students loved the course, but it was apparent by 1970 that its very remarkability would spell its doom. Teachers were threatened by the novelty of a textbookless course; publishers scorned its unprofitable multi-media format. The biggest blow, though, came from politicians and school board members who claimed that MACOS preached such evils as cultural relativism. This book, written by the former director of MACOS, serves as a warning to those who try to innovate the educational system with less than absolute caution.
A version of this article appeared in the February 01, 1992 edition of Teacher as Books