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March 1, 1996
Vol. 53
No. 6


School Change

School Change: The Personal Development Point of View by Seymour B. Sarason. New York: Teachers College Press, 1995.
Seymour Sarason has written extensively during his more than 50 years as a clinical psychologist and as an intimate observer of school reform. In this collection of his writings, Sarason begins each chapter explaining the context in which he originally wrote it, and frames for the reader the selection's importance to the development of his perspective.
Four themes are central to School Change: (1) the truth you know is partial truth, (2) understanding a setting requires participation in it, (3) prevention is preferable to repair, and (4) everyone resists change. Sarason weaves these themes through such diverse topics as teacher preparation, curriculum and instruction, school governance, the purpose of schools, the politics of reform, and the place of students in schools. Sarason's argument seems both cynical in its assertion that meaningful reform will likely fail again, and hopeful that profound change can take place if we confront the complexity of the task.
School Change works on different levels. For the teacher, administrator, or policymaker unfamiliar with Sarason's writing, its an excellent introduction to his persuasive perspective on school reform. To the reader who is familiar with his previous works, it provides insight into the experience behind Sarason's clearly articulated opinions and gives a partial history of reform efforts over the past 30 years.
Published by Teachers College Press, 1234 Amsterdam Ave., New York, NY 10027. Price: $23.95.
—Reviewed by Terry Beck, Meredith Hill Elementary, Sumner, Washington.

Expert Problem Solving

Expert Problem Solving: Evidence from School and District Leaders by Kenneth Leithwood and Rosanne Steinbach. Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 1995
Problem solving is the stuff of which school administrators' jobs are made. The effectiveness of our problem solving is the measure that defines our leadership role.
In Expert Problem Solving, Leithwood and Steinbach compile research on the nature and development of expert administrative thinking and problem solving. Peering through the lens of cognitive science they examine significant studies of administrators solving real-life problems.
The research suggests, for example, that "experts" solve problems quite differently than "typical" leaders; that school leaders anticipate constraints and regularly seek group solutions to most problems; and that personal and professional values are a pervasive influence on how they solve problems.
The optimistic element of this research is that administrative expertise, however defined, can be learned.
Expert Problem Solving is a serious study with far-reaching implications. It must not be overlooked in our continued search for quick fixes to complex educational problems.
Published by SUNY Press, State University Plaza, Albany, NY 12246. Price: $21.95.
—Reviewed by Joanne Rooney, Midwest Principals' Center, Palatine, Illinois.

Constructing Professional Knowledge in Teaching

Constructing Professional Knowledge in Teaching by Mary Beattie. New York: Teachers College Press, 1995.
There is seemingly endless discussion about how to improve the experience of schooling. The focus, however, is almost exclusively on the receiver of instruction, the student. Here is a book that asks the equally valuable question, how can teachers make their role increasingly rich and satisfying?
Chronicled is the travel of a teacher pilgrim on the difficult path to redefine herself and her teaching practice. Enroute, she discovers a way of being a teacher, learner, and creator of knowledge and understanding.
For many teachers, attaining a level of competence, or even mastery, does not signal arrival at Valhalla, but at a fork in the road. One direction leads, through endless repetition and unfulfillment, to the dead end of burnout. The other takes one down a road that is as much a journey inward as it is a trip farther afield.
This book maps one leg of that voyage. Landmarks along the way include collaborative instruction, student-centered curriculum, learner-generated materials, interdisciplinary instruction, and other refinements of teaching as both craft and art.
Published by Teachers College Press, 1234 Amsterdam Ave., New York, NY 10027. Price: $16.95.
—Reviewed by Mark Gura, New York City Board of Education, New York, New York.

Molding the Good Citizen

Molding the Good Citizen by Robert Lerner, Althea K. Nagai, and Stanley Rothman. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 1995.
Educators in the United States are "radical egalitarians," say the authors, who are bent on changing society from within schools. Indeed, they contend that radical egalitarianism is now "conventional wisdom among educators." Even child-centered education is fueled by it, for its goal is to "wean children away from the 'reactionary' values of their parents."
The authors, writing from outside public education, infer the values of those inside it by analyzing the content of leading high school American history textbooks. In their view, the "education establishment" has transformed these texts over the past five decades. And this group inherited its socialist-liberal attitudes from educators and philosophers of the Progressive Era earlier this century.
The authors argue that the pursuit of equality in this nation has gotten far out of hand, citing the many changes in these texts to bolster that case. The closing chapter centers on Toqueville's warning that "the drive for equality" might undo democracy.
On the back cover are words of praise from famous conservatives (William Bennett and Lynne Cheney, for example) who call the book a "crucial" work, "alarming," and "powerful." Unfortunately, the book paints the "education establishment" with a broad brush: More than a few principals will be surprised to read that they are "radical egalitarians." Yet educators of all stripes should be familiar with these arguments.
Published by Praeger Publishers, 88 Post Rd. West, Westport, CT 06881. Price: $55 cloth, $17.95 paper.
—Reviewed by Walter Parker, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.

Other People's Words

Other People's Words: The Cycle of Low Literacy by Victoria Purcell-Gates. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1995.
The author forcefully documents the relationship between culture and the printed word in this case study of an urban Appalachian mother and son as they struggle to learn to read and write. For two years Purcell-Gates was first a teacher, guide, mentor, and friend to Jenny and Donny and, second, a researcher.
Study of the Appalachian poor or the "invisible minority"—who are usually white and living in poverty—has seldom been done. These records provide powerful insights into the problems of teaching literacy.
Understanding that everyone processes information through a cultural lens that causes us to perceive the same event in very different terms, the author recognized that Donny and Jenny's difficulties with learning to read and write did not result from a single factor. Rather, she discerned a cultural identity for the mother and son that had developed through the complex interplay of poverty, minority status, and lack of experience with written language. Further, the author's study showed that literate abilities emerge developmentally as children engage in experiences with books and printed materials at home before going to school.
Other People's Words is easy to read and entertainingly written. It is also an instructive case study that documents the specific procedures, intervention strategies, and experiences that a researcher encountered in helping a child and an adult become literate. Anyone interested in literacy, but particularly those teaching adult literacy and primary school reading, will find it of value.
Published by Harvard University Press, 79 Garden St., Cambridge, MA 02138. Price: $29.95.
—Reviewed by Elizabeth Manera, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona.

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

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