Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

PRACTICING VIRTUES: Moral Traditions at Quaker and Military Boarding Schools, by Kim Hays. (University of California Press, $30.) Attempting to delineate the specific moral traditions of different boarding schools, Kim Hays lived at 12--half of them Quaker, the other half military--during the 1987-88 school year. Emphasized at the Quaker schools, she discovered, were equality, tolerance, simplicity, and pacifism--values that were primarily a matter of the individual conscience, or the "Inner Light,'' which would ideally emerge in the prolonged silences that marked community meetings. At the military schools, on the other hand, student recruits were expected to live up to ideals of hard work, competence, and loyalty. The ability to meet external standards was everything; how one felt was insignificant--unlike at the Quaker schools. These moral traditions provided students with a sense of definition, of purposefulness; however, they also entailed inevitable conflicts with which the schools continuously struggled. At the Quaker schools, for instance, the insistence on tolerance was sometimes tantamount to excuse-making, as teachers were sometimes reluctant to criticize student misbehavior. Furthermore, the emphasis on equality created a loss of distance between teachers and students that, in extreme cases, resulted in sexual relationships. In the military schools, an overbearing sense of duty frequently caused one to emulate a superior's example, even when it led to the vicious hazing of junior officers. Nevertheless, Practicing Virtues convinces the reader that such conflicts, painful as they may be, are the price one must pay for a genuine moral focus. Moral growth, after all, comes from conflicts, and it is the strenuous avoidance of conflict that renders too many of our public schools blandly neutral in mission and tone. Without a moral vision, and traditions that reaffirm that vision, teenagers are likely to lapse into a destructive cycle of ennui followed by pleasureseeking. And a vision that is universal or "global'' is, Hays rigorously argues, too remote to be compelling. "This book,'' she writes, "comes down on the side of particular morals embodied in traditions and moral codes.''

WHO WILL TEACH THE CHILDREN?: Progress and Resistance in Teacher Education, by Harriet Tyson. (Jossey-Bass, $26.95.) When it comes to assigning blame for educational mediocrity, few targets are as popular as colleges of education. They are, we hear, a holding tank for our weakest undergraduates. They are populated by professors light years removed from the classroom. And--this the most common criticism--they emphasize methodology at the expense of subject matter, sending into the schools teachers who have but a shallow understanding of their fields. It is with this last point that Tyson takes most vehement exception. For to suggest, she argues, that future teachers need less teacher training but more course work in their subject area is as facetious as it is fallacious. Multiple-choice tests, rote memorization, inexorable lecturing--these things largely constitute the arts and science curriculum to which critics say future teachers should have more exposure. Furthermore, Tyson marshals impressive evidence indicating that course work in the so-called "core'' subjects does not lead to deep understanding. Successful calculus students have a difficult time explaining basic geometry; biology students routinely misapply the principles of evolution. Convincing as this argument is--who, having attended college, can dispute the inadequacy of much of their course work?--Tyson makes questionable statements that undermine a generally laudable effort to defend teacher education. She writes, for example, that "a bag of procedures and tricks'' can make for effective classroom management, unwittingly reducing teacher education to the very narrow focus so many critics attack. Incredibly, she also suggests that America needs to "become a nation like Japan that values learning for its own sake,'' when in fact much of Japanese education is calibrated to produce higher test scores. Nevertheless, Who Will Teach the Children? is important in demonstrating that if teacher education is inadequate, it is no more inadequate than the more esteemed liberal arts.

ALONG FREEDOM ROAD: Hyde County, North Carolina, and the Fate of Black Schools in the South, by David S. Cecelski. (University of North Carolina Press, $14.95.) While the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954 mandated school desegregation, it did not determine just how this desegregation was to take place. In Hyde County, N.C., as in other southern locales, white leaders typically complied with the law by closing down black schools, compelling black students to adapt to hostile and often blatantly racist white schools. It is now conventional to think of these black schools as inadequate and, therefore, no great loss. But Cecelski vigorously argues that these schools, deprived of funding as they were, provided their students with a sense of purpose and identity. And in Hyde County, the black community protested their closing, launching a two-year boycott that was essentially successful; after a protracted battle, black and white schools merged, with the black schools managing to retain their traditions even as they integrated their faculties and student bodies. Along Freedom Road illustrates that legal remedies to social problems are never enough; laws, benign as they may appear, can be willfully misapplied. The most meaningful victories will always be achieved at the grass-roots level.--David Ruenzel

Vol. 05, Issue 08, Page 1-24

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories