Education Opinion


By David Ruenzel — November 01, 1992 3 min read


by Robert Bullough Jr., J. Gary Knowles, and Nedra Crow (Routledge, $15.95.)

Anyone who has ever taught is likely to recognize himself or herself in one of these six case studies of idealistic but naive first-year teachers. Unprepared for the messy reality of classroom teaching, the novice teachers initially construct lofty metaphors to describe their perceived roles: “Teacher as nurturer,” “teacher as rescuer,” and “teacher as subject-matter expert” are typical of their outlooks. Once hurled into the school year, though, the teachers quickly find themselves overwhelmed and the metaphors woefully inadequate. Kay, a 1st grade teacher, exhausts herself while trying to “mother” needy children; Marilyn, a 5th grade teacher, finds that her need to nurture conflicts with her desire for structure; and Larry, a junior high school science teacher, learns that expertise in his subject counts for little in a school culture dedicated to pounding information into rebellious students. By Christmas, several of the teachers are on the verge of emotional and physical collapse, and it is clear that a shift in self-understanding must occur if the teachers are to survive. A few, thanks to grit and timely assistance, make this shift. Kay, for instance, comes to see herself as a “coach”—a metaphor that allows her to teach while sparing her over-involvement in her students’ lives. But others, routinely isolated in their classrooms, either leave teaching or make unhappy concessions. Larry, for instance, regretfully becomes “teacher as policeman.” While sharply acute as a critique of schools and teacher education—they throw new teachers to the wolves, so to speak—this book is even more interesting as a portrait of the psychological burdens new teachers necessarily bring into their classrooms. A teacher like Marilyn, who needs to feel loved and wanted in her personal life, will invariably express the need in the classroom. Emerging as a Teacher shows us, among other things, that good teaching often begins with a reexamination of one’s motivations for becoming a teacher.

WHAT JOHNNY SHOULDN’T READ: Textbook Censorship in America

by Joan Delfattore (Ballantine Books, $25.)

It will hardly be news for teachers to learn that textbooks have frequently been targeted by overzealous fundamentalists and politically correct extremists. What is news, though, is the insidious way textbooks are altered in behind-the-scenes meetings long before they reach the public eye. Because vast Texas and California have the most clout, publishers go to great lengths to appease their state boards of education, routinely re-writing and excising controversial material. But what states find controversial is often merely ludicrous: In California, in keeping with the state’s “junk food rule,” references to pizza and ice cream in a short story were eliminated, while in Texas, which frowns on anything vaguely critical of capitalism, a textbook publisher was coerced into removing a segment on the New Deal. The inevitable result of an involved textbook-approval process, through which numerous special-interest groups make demands, is that textbooks achieve a perfect blandness. Delfattore effectively shows us that what is wrong with textbooks is the same thing that is wrong with schools: narrow political agendas taking precedence over broader educational goals.

THINKING FOR A LIVING: Education and the Wealth of Nations

by Ray Marshall and Marc Tucker (Basic Books, $24.)

American industry and American education, Thinking for a Living persuasively argues, mirror each other in their bureaucratic inefficiency and general indifference to those on the front lines—namely workers, students, and teachers. A byproduct of the early 20th century, when the assembly line demanded workers that obeyed rather than thought, this sluggish system continues to endure, even though it has long been obsolete. While our competitors—particularly the Japanese and Europeans—insist that their students and workers develop critical-thinking skills that will ensure their usefulness, we train ours narrowly, if at all. To change this sorry state of affairs, the authors offer many detailed proposals, ranging from student-performance examinations to apprenticeship programs. But many of the proposals demand government intervention, making one wonder if the authors wouldn’t add to the very bureaucracy they so roundly condemn.

A version of this article appeared in the September 19, 1984 edition of Education Week as Books