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By David Ruenzel — December 16, 2019 3 min read
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As perhaps befits a book authored by three corporate executives (Doyle is a scholar), the major theme of Reinventing Education is “make it new” and “get out of the way.” Just as business requires entrepreneurship and a free market in order to flourish, so the public schools need bold leadership and a dose of capitalism if they are to attract and satisfy customers, which is how the authors want us to think of students and their parents. In short, schools need to be more like corporate America—the corporate America that produces General Motors’ Saturn and not, one assumes, the Ford Pinto. This, anyhow, is the essential argument of Louis Gerstner, former CEO of RJR Nabisco and current CEO of IBM, who here sings the praises of Next Century Schools, a program launched in 1990 by the RJR Nabisco Foundation to fund “bold ideas for fundamental change.” So far, 43 public schools have received $30 million, which they may use to implement all kinds of innovations. The plan sounds impressive, yet it is hard not to be skeptical of this “business knows best” approach. American business may have now jumped on the critical-thinking bandwagon, but it spent much of this century deriding educators who swerved from teaching the basics. After all, the basics suited American companies wanting a narrowly trained work force that would not question the status quo. Then, as now, business said what Gerstner says here: “Our schools should be above politics.” But can schools ever be above politics? Schools, in keeping with Jeffersonian ideals, should be training students to participate in politics. But the authors are less interested in democracy than in what’s new and improved, failing to understand that quickly expiring novelty is often the result. Reinventing Education seems to assume that schools fail not because of social inequities or lack of will but because school leaders aren’t as savvy as today’s CEOs.

EDUCATIONAL RENEWAL: Better Teachers, Better Schools, by John Goodlad. (Jossey-Bass, $28.95.)

John Goodlad, esteemed author of the 1984 book A Place Called School, argues here that school reform is almost futile without accompanying changes in teacher education. The problem is essentially this: How can teachers who have never developed habits of intellectual inquiry themselves be expected to catalyze such habits in their students? As Goodlad points out, recent education school graduates leave the university knowing very little about the ideas of such important thinkers as John Dewey. “The historical and philosophical underpinnings once common to the education of teachers [have] almost faded away,” he writes. Goodlad, then, speaks not of reform but of “simultaneous renewal.” It is his belief that public schools and teacher preparation programs must establish ongoing collaborations. He proposes creating new Centers of Pedagogy that bring together teachers, education professors, and liberal arts faculty. Goodlad, as director of the Center for Educational Renewal at the University of Washington, has already succeeded in inspiring a number of these collaborations. But for his efforts to succeed on a wide scale, the players must be willing to surrender entrenched positions. Will professors of education, for example, be willing to descend from their ivory towers?

FAILING AT FAIRNESS: How America’s Schools Cheat Girls, by Myra and David Sadker. (Scribners, $22.)

In the world of schools, girls inhabit the middle class. While boys are both lauded for intellectual achievement and castigated for misbehavior, girls often disappear into a placid middle, garnering neither reprimands nor praise. Some of this is undoubtedly due to old-fashioned sexual stereotyping. The Sadkers’ studies, extending over two decades, reveal that boys are typically praised for the intellectual quality of their ideas while girls are praised for attention to detail. Boys performing poorly on a test are told, “You can do better”; girls, on the other hand, are simply told, “I’m afraid you didn’t do well.” Educators also tend to assume that girls have limited ability in math and science. Low intellectual expectations, then, haunt girls throughout their school years. Bias, though, doesn’t tell the whole story; the gender disparity has roots in an educational system that continues to favor conformity and obedience. Considered by teachers to be ideal students when they are at their most subdued, girls are conditioned at an early age to be “nice,” performing with increasingly less vigor as they move through the system. While little is new in Failing At Fairness—scholars such as Carol Gilligan have covered similar terrain—this straightforward presentation of gender bias serves the honorable purpose of raising public awareness.

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

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