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September 28, 2004 5 min read
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‘A Call to Help Others’

In Teaching Toward Freedom: Moral Commitment and Ethical Action in the Classroom (Beacon Press, 25 Beacon St., Boston, MA 02108; 183 pp., $23 hardcover), William Ayers reveals the source of his passion for teaching as a deep-seated belief that “teaching is a call to help others—and oneself in the process—realize their full potential and humanity.” Recognizing that “all teaching is ethical work,” he uses examples from literature, history, and film to show how the classroom can be a place of freedom, where students learn to be more human. He warns, at the same time, against education used in authoritarian and dehumanizing ways. The essence of his views can be seen in the passage below.

Early-Childhood Education

Edited by one of the founders of Head Start, along with his research colleague at the Yale Center in Child Development and Social Policy, this collection of essays by 53 leaders in the fields of education, research, medicine, and social work gives a balanced view of the complex debates surrounding the federally funded preschool program. Contributors provide contrasting views on three major issues within these debates: (1.) What should Head Start’s goals be? (2.) How effective is the program, and what is its impact on children’s school readiness and success, as well as their health and family functioning? (3.) What should be the future of Head Start?

This latest book by the Yale University child psychiatrist James P. Comer, who founded the School Development Program 35 years ago this year, assesses the impact on children of the nation’s recent reliance on “accountability” gained through tougher standards and higher tests scores. He argues that support for proper development of children— psychological, ethical, cognitive, linguistic, social, and physical—is what’s missing from the education system. Includes a foreword by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Reading

A mother’s exploration of young-adult novels leads her to some conclusions about the disappearance of childhood. Having noticed that her 12-year-old son had lost his love for reading the novels assigned to him in school, Barbara Feinberg, the head of a children’s arts program, decided to read the books herself. She found to her dismay that these adolescent-themed novels were mostly memoir-like capitulations of social problems that few of their readers might have to face in their own lives: alcoholism, family violence, kidnapping, abandonment, sexual abuse, suicide, and more. She concludes that this relentless pursuit of “reality"not only in children’s and young-adult literature, but also in creative-writing classes for youngsters like her 2nd-grade daughteris robbing children of the life-enhancing development of a capacity to enjoy fantasy and explore the world of the imagination.

Leadership

A collection of letters by legendary school reformers and principals written each week for their schools’ newsletters to families. The authors have added short essays and commentary to the letters compilation, which is organized around four themes: authority, community, learning, and standards.

An easy-to-read guide with accompanying CD-ROM that lists over 300 of the best Web sites of interest to educational leaders. Listings are in 25 categories, including crisis and disaster intervention, education policy and research, grants, law and finance, and school administration.

Enchanted With Writing

In the memoir I Am a Pencil: A Teacher, His Kids, and Their World of Stories (Henry Holt and Co., 115 West 18th St., New York, NY 10011; 297pp., $25 hardback), the children’s-book author Sam Swope recounts how he became enchanted with his urban, mostly immigrant students and with the pleasures of teaching them to write stories and poems. It was after giving a three-week writing workshop to a 3rd grade class in Queens in New York City that he decided to “devote” himself for the next three years to teaching writing to the school’s students. In the following passage, he has taken them to Central Park to view a willow tree in November and to write about trees.

Mental Health

Highlights the need for educational policies and programs for the children affected by America’s urban drug crisis. The first section of the book examines the “social construction of the urban crack-baby crisis” and how that has influenced people’s expectations for these children. The second section deals with the education of drug-exposed children and includes interview responses from elementary and special education teachers. A set of policy recommendations, such as for more intervention programs, is included.

For general and special education teachers, this guide gives an overview of the mental-health-care system and lists and defines the different types of professionals who are part of it. Many mental-health issues or conditions are described in separate chapters, which include characteristics of a disorder, the ways it might be manifested, the process for diagnosis, types of intervention and treatment, and guidelines for working with students who have been diagnosed as having the disorder.

Teaching

An award-winning education reporter writes of 45-year-old Donna Moffett’s decision to quit her job as a legal secretary in New York City and become a 1st grade teacher through the city’s Teaching Fellows program. The book tells the story of Ms. Moffett’s first year of teaching a classroom of elementary students at PS 92 in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, and describes the struggles of this new and mostly unprepared teacher with difficult students and much more. Portions of the book originally appeared in a series of front-page articles in The New York Times. The author is now the newspaper’s Miami bureau chief.

Classic Reprints

First published in 1939, this satire on the educational establishment and its conflicting philosophies of education—written by the pseudonymous Professor J. Abner Peddiwell, doyen of the history of education at Petaluma State College, to a former student—is being reissued with an introduction by John I. Goodlad.

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