October 01, 1994 2 min read

SKYLINE: One Season, One Team, One City, by Tim Keown. (MacMillan, $20.) When 28-year-old Shawn Donlea first arrives at Oakland’s Skyline High to coach basketball, the players are wary: He’s a white Iowan, and they (with one exception) are urban African Americans. He likes a structured style of play; they like a freewheeling street game that celebrates pure athletic ability. Skyline is the story of how the two parties eventually accommodate themselves to one another. The book raises important questions about teaching as well as coaching. One thing is immediately clear: Donlea’s players need discipline, and he, early in the year, compromises himself by failing to enforce the rules uniformly. As the year goes on, Donlea becomes tougher and more successful but also more sympathetic. One breakthrough occurs after a dispiriting defeat, when he apologizes to his team for his own coaching errors. The players, seeing that Donlea is as hard on himself as he is on them, respond with redoubled efforts. Finally, Donlea, realizing that his players respond best to “an emotional, purely visceral approach,’' motivates with displays of both temper and compassion. While some readers won’t approve of some of his harsher motivational tactics, Skyline demonstrates that the best coaches, like the best teachers, have an emotional as well as a professional commitment to their pupils.

DOGMATIC WISDOM: How the Cultural Wars Divert Education and Distract America, by Russell Jacoby. (Doubleday, $22.95.) While this astute book focuses largely on the follies of higher education, it deserves to be read by all teachers, so far-reaching is Jacoby’s message. Essentially, he wants to tell us that while we exhaust our energies worrying about issues such as multiculturalism, reading lists, and dispensing condoms, the real problems of education are being woefully neglected. At inner-city elementary schools bereft of resources, classrooms are literally falling apart. At high schools and colleges, students remain largely indifferent to any kind of serious reading, even as experts bicker about curricular reforms. The overarching issue, as Jacoby sees it, is the rampant commercialism that “poisons civil life’’ while undermining education. He notes that 77 percent of high school students work at part- or full-time jobs--usually not to assist the family but to provide themselves with discretionary income. How, against this cultural background, Jacoby wonders, can we persuade students to value an education that cannot be measured in terms of an immediate payoff? Why are we fretting about the appropriateness of teaching The Catcher in the Rye instead of addressing the general societal disdain for liberal learning? We are, Jacoby persuasively concludes, losing the big picture by focusing so intently on what’s going on in the margins.
--David Ruenzel

A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 1994 edition of Teacher as Books