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April 1, 1994
Vol. 51
No. 7


Letters to a Serious Education President

Letters to a Serious Education President by Seymour B. Sarason. Newbury Park, Calif.: Corwin Press, 1993.
Seymour Sarason's recent book is strong preventive medicine delivered with great wit. Through a series of letters, Sarason seeks to dislodge the president elected in November 2000 from his technically-oriented “prison” of superficial tinkering and quick fixes. The self-disclosure, dialogue, and sermonizing of the letter format avoid harsh judgmentalism by getting “behind the eyes” of the politician, teacher, student, parent, and administrator. Letters to a Serious Education President is a book of conviction and compassion.
The core of Sarason's message is “start with and capitalize on the world of students, their experience of and with their world, their questions, their curiosities, their puzzlement,” not with “a highly differentiated, complex organizational structure.” Old wine in old bottles? It will appear so to some critics; however, a closer look discloses how revolutionary Sarason's thesis would be if implemented in teacher education programs and classrooms.
First, Sarason's “big idea” provides a clear focus and benchmark for all of our thoughts and actions as we do the hard work required of educational leaders. Sarason models what he prescribes: he builds on what the president has experienced educationally to make his case.
Second, Sarason explicitly describes the inadequacies of curriculum defined as a course of study, and he implicitly sets the stage for a new definition by prescribing basic assumptions for learning, teaching, and teacher education programs. These assumptions include: teachers and students are co-learners; each person's experiences count; wonder is within each of us, ready to be released if the context allows; hope is preferable to both cynicism and optimism; and one should both respect and play with ideas.
The two guiding questions for each classroom become “How shall we live together?” and “How shall I live with myself?” How interesting that the covenant concept was central in President Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign speeches!
Finally, the artistry of Sarason's narrative means that his writing must be judged in terms of verisimilitude rather than validity. The author's ideas will have “the ring of truth” to anyone who has spent much time in classrooms—which is to say all of us.
Available from Corwin Press, 2455 Teller Rd., Newbury Park, CA 91320, for $17.95.
—Reviewed by Dale L. Brubaker, University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Rethinking School Finance

Rethinking School Finance: An Agenda for the 1990s. Edited by Allan R. Odden. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1992.
Educational policy and finance issues have been exceedingly volatile over the last 20 years, and if you think the changes will slow down, this collection of original chapters will convince you otherwise. The authors propose an agenda that could keep educators busy for the next 20 years. Suggestions include restructuring teacher compensation systems, linking costs and educational goals, decentralizing dollars, using incentives to promote school improvement, creating a “Dow Jones Index” for schools, financing public school choice, establishing a federal role in reducing financial disparities, and joining schools with other children's services.
Many of these changes suggest a shift in finance from a district to a school focus. Although the technical mechanisms already exist to make such a shift, it will be the political misunderstandings that hold up the transition. Increased funding to support this new order may depend on demonstrating improved student performance, requiring that instructional and financial leadership join forces to implement new, more effective policies.
Available from Jossey-Bass Publishers, 350 Sansome St., San Francisco, CA 94104 for $28.95.
—Reviewed by Arthur Steller, Boston Public Schools, Boston, Massachusetts.

School's Out

School's Out: Hyperlearning, the New Technology, and the End of Education by Lewis J. Perelman. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1992.
It's radical, revolutionary, and just might be inevitable. Lewis Perelman proposes that schools as we know them might soon go the way of the horse and buggy. He questions the economic efficiency of our current education system, and he considers the potential impact of existing and emerging electronic information technologies to make learning not only better but also ubiquitous. It is an intriguing and provocative notion.
He describes the concept of hypermedia, which is the organization of information by associative links rather than in a traditional linear format. From this concept is extrapolated hyperlearning, whereby all learning resources will be linked together and available to anyone, anywhere, at any time.
Perelman contends that the $4 billion spent each year on our existing education system is a wasteful diversion of money that could be better used for developing universally accessible technological learning systems.
He presents a somewhat futurist agenda, a mandate for technology in education that addresses the effectiveness—and inevitability—of applying technology to learning. Perelman presents some cutting-edge technology that would contribute to a new system of learning and make a traditional classroom obsolete: powerful computers, revolutionary new display devices (such as high-definition TV), telecommunications, and systems that can put information into digital format to make everything compatible. Perhaps this sounds extravagant, but much of the necessary technology already exists. Lacking are the crucial infrastructure components; the “information highway system” has yet to be paved.
Technology will continue to have a significant impact on education, and Perelman has taken this idea to its logical conclusion. This book provides a good picture of many things likely to come.
Available from William Morrow & Co., 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019, for $23.
—Reviewed by Peter Neal, Video Producer, ASCD

The Art of Classroom Inquiry

The Art of Classroom Inquiry by Ruth Sagoury Highboard and Brenda Miller Power. Portsmouth, N. H.: Heineman, 1993.
Traditionally, teachers have explored teaching in much the same way that the Vikings learned about the Atlantic. We crossed the ocean of classroom research, assimilated our discoveries, and quietly adjusted our courses accordingly.
This tradition of uncommunicativeness is breaking down. The change is reminiscent of one that Charles Darwin experienced. After five seasick years on the Beagle, Darwin is said to have returned to England to find that his letters home had been shared, and his expanded audience was eager to know much more.
Like Darwin, more and more teachers have taken to studying their own practice and sharing their observations and conclusions. The more frequent teacher-led inquiry and the wider audience for its results has helped to fundamentally redefine teaching.
The Art of Classroom Inquiry: A Handbook for Teacher Researchers helps chart the theoretical and practical waters of classroom inquiry. Five chapters are navigational aids, guiding either landlubbers or old sea dogs through “dragon-filled” seas (like data collection and analysis). The remaining two chapters are a must for all explorers. One chapter, for instance, shows how to quell “writing,” that sea monster of fearsome reputation. In the book, writing is wooed, not slain. Writing is reconceived as a partner, a helpful guide for times when the way seems dark and difficult.
Available from Heineman, 361 Hanover St., Portsmouth, N. H. 03801-3912, for $16.50.
—Reviewed by Roberta Jackson, Rockledge Elementary School, Woodbridge, Virginia.

Forks, Phonographs, and Hot Air Balloons

Forks, Phonographs, and Hot Air Balloons by Robert J. Weber. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Forks, Phonographs, and Hot Air Balloons is not about particular inventions, how to be an inventor, or the mechanics of how inventions work. It is about the ideas that give rise to inventions. Throughout the text, inventors and inventions are discussed, but they are only the devices that Weber uses to talk about the thinking involved in creating new things.
As the author examines various discoveries and the ideas behind them, he invites the reader to consider “What if you change [this or that]?” Such questions evoke a sense of wonder and curiosity, and they prompt the reader to engage in reflective thinking.
The major advantage of this book is its use of language. Weber examines discoveries from the layman's point of view, which makes for easy reading. The discussion is also relatively free of technical jargon and complicated discussions of how devices work.
In short, Weber's text is both accessible to technophobes and excellent for anyone interested in creative and critical thinking.
Available from Oxford University Press, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016, for $25.
—Reviewed by Frank K. Adams, Wayne State College, Wayne, Nebraska.

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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