Opinion
Education Commentary

New in Print

By Anne E. Das — March 20, 2007 5 min read

Brain Research

For years, the conventional wisdom has been that the human brain remains fixed after early childhood, subject only to deterioration. Children with mental limitations or adults suffering from brain injury can never hope to attain brain normality. Not so, says Doidge, a research psychiatrist and psychoanalyst at Columbia University and the University of Toronto. In this book, he outlines the emerging concept of neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Through numerous case studies, he describes stroke victims who have learned to move and speak again, senior citizens who have sharpened their memories, and children who have raised their IQs and overcome learning disabilities, among others. The science, he predicts, will have ramifications for professionals in many fields, but especially for teachers of all types. Oliver Sacks, a well-known neurologist and the author of the book Awakenings, calls Doidge’s work “a remarkable and hopeful portrait of the endless adaptability of the human brain.”

Neuroscience and Buddhism intermix in this survey of neuroplasticity.

A neuroscientist asserts that the brain is not a problem-solving machine, but a jumbled mass of ad hoc solutions accumulated over millions of years of evolution.

Church and State

Religion plays a role in nearly every domestic- and international-policy decision made in the United States, but Americans are largely ignorant when it comes to the basic tenets of religious faith, laments Prothero, who chairs the religion department at Boston University. He recounts how schools went from being sites of religious instruction to places where the subject is shunned, in large part, he argues, through the efforts of the very religious. Citing such statistics as that only 10 percent of American teenagers can name all five major world religions, he calls for religion to be given equal standing with reading, writing, and arithmetic as a fourth R in the high school and college curriculum. The goal should not be to inculcate virtue or promote religiosity, Prothero explains, but to prepare students for effective citizenship, and he describes how this can be done in accordance with the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court rulings. He also includes, in the style of E.D. Hirsch Jr., a lengthy “Dictionary of Religious Literacy” defining more than 150 religious terms, beliefs, groups, and places commonly referenced in public debate.

Tells the history of several current controversies, such as prayer in schools, with guidelines for educators on navigating them legally.

Diversity

For Sapon-Shevin, a professor of inclusive education at Syracuse University, “inclusion” goes beyond bringing students with disabilities into regular classrooms to mean the complete integration of children with differences—physical, ethnic, linguistic, economic, academic, and so on—as a matter of social justice. Just as a dinner-party host would plan a menu carefully and not expect vegetarian or lactose-intolerant guests to pick at dishes, so too should schools be designed so that all students can participate equally and have their needs met, she writes. Properly executed inclusion, she asserts, aids even “regular” students; indeed, she argues, “it is only within inclusive schools that anyone can become a fully loving and competent human being and citizen.” In setting forth her vision for such schooling, Sapon-Shevin addresses educators’ doubts, offers strategies for overcoming obstacles, and provides examples of classrooms where she sees its successful implementation. Inclusion, she maintains, is more than just a pleasant idea; it is necessary for nothing less than “the survival of a democratic society.”

Explores why the collective wisdom of disparate minds is more beneficial than agreement or even individual genius.

History

Fifty years ago this coming September, Gov. Orval Faubus of Arkansas deployed the state’s National Guard to prevent nine African-American students from attending Little Rock’s then all-white Central High School. At the time, Jacoway, now a scholar of Southern history, was a student in Little Rock and the niece of its superintendent of schools. But, she writes, she was “shielded purposely” from the crisis, and did not come to understand its importance until she entered graduate school. This book, a chronicle of the events that unfolded in Little Rock, stems from her ongoing desire to make sense of that turbulent period, the participation of her relatives and family friends, and her own childhood obliviousness. Drawing on 30 years of research and interviews with many key players—including Faubus; five of the Little Rock Nine; Daisy Bates, a civil rights activist and the students’ adviser; and Harry Ashmore, a journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for his editorials on the conflict—Jacoway presents a comprehensive view of a pivotal moment in both national and education history.

Also of Note

A veteran teacher shares his blueprint for turning deeply troubled teenagers around, both academically and morally.

Two high school seniors from rural Iowa—the capital of high school wrestling—attempt the rare feat of becoming four-time state champions in this book lauded by reviewers as wrestling’s Friday Night Lights.

Charter school students from Brooklyn battle their way to the national chess championships.

A prominent legal authority reflects on a murky issue bedeviling authors and artists since Shakespeare.

Advice for teachers on preventing and detecting student copying.

Experts in the fields of education and international development analyze efforts to achieve universal primary and secondary education worldwide.

Examines the plight of uneducated girls in developing countries.

The founders of the Math Circle, a Boston program employing a playful, puzzle-based approach to teaching mathematics, explain how to make the subject accessible and enjoyable for all students.

Education and legal scholars weigh in on adequacy litigation as a reform strategy; contributors include James W. Guthrie, Eric A. Hanushek, and Kenneth W. Starr.

An evaluation of Nebraska’s localized, teacher-led assessment system.

A companion to the Discovery Channel/BBC nature miniseries (scheduled to begin its U.S. broadcast March 25 on the Discovery Channel), this coffee-table book contains more than 400 photographs of wildlife and landscapes from around the globe. A selection of images can be viewed at www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/10815/10815.gallery.html.

A version of this article appeared in the March 21, 2007 edition of Education Week as New in Print