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September 1, 1996
Vol. 54
No. 1


Ask Ms. Class

Ask Ms. Class by Susan Ohanian. York, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers, 1996.
Dear Ms. Class:I am a 2nd grade teacher, working on a primary-grade curriculum committee. We hope that if our students see school as a job, we will get them ready for life, ready to enter the work force as productive members of our 21st century society, and they will be more serious about their assignments. We have set up a market economy linking mathematics and social studies. We wonder if you can suggest some resources for real-life curriculum in language arts.—Baltimore, Md.
Dear Baltimore:No, no, a thousand times no. Please dismiss any notion of getting 2nd graders ready for life. A 2nd grade teacher should not even worry about getting her students ready for 3rd grade. The proper concern of every primary-grade teacher must be the current lives of the children in her care. Ms. Class entreats you to nurture the children as children, not as miniature stockbrokers and bankers. Life is today, not tomorrow. Primary teachers should concern themselves not with good results, but with good beginnings. A good place for your committee to start is to place a moratorium on the use of the term 21st century.
In Ask Ms. Class, Susan Ohanian does for the reader what she recommends "Baltimore" do for kids: she has fun. She also goads classroom teachers into cherishing every day they teach. After all, what is teaching for? Earning a living? Hardly! Receiving the praise of children? Dreamer! The delight of knowing you made a difference and the need to get better and better at teaching? Undoubtedly! Teachers endure difficulties for the sheer joy of being learners together with their students; for the discovery that they don't understand everything about their own lives much less the lives of their students; and for learning how to add drama to every class.
Ms. Class's ideas about teaching, told in letters culled from her immensely successful columns and books, focus on the human interaction that is the heart of the student-teacher encounter. In chapters such as "Basal Defense Fund," "Behavioral Objective Terradiddle," "Adaptor Plus Affirmative Action," and "Individualized Instruction Flotation Device," she points up the essential intelligence and compassion that distinguishes a teacher from a teaching machine. After all, as Ms. Class notes about the computerized instruction age, "A workbook skill is a workbook skill eve when it lights up, dances a jig, and whistles 'Flight of the Bumblebee.' "
You'll enjoy Ohanian's reflections on gold stars and pizza rewards, on getting self-esteem by osmosis, on the myth of classroom experts, on surviving faculty meetings (by knitting, if necessary), on blackline master plans, and on every teacher's Xanax moments. It is the humor itself that makes the point: teaching is like no other earthly career, and really good teachers are both rare and a little crazy—give them a "clean, well-lighted, office-like cubicle," fresh coffee, a bunch of kids, a stack of tangrams and trade books, and they'll giggle all the way to purgatory. What they'll leave behind are priceless jewels: children who love learning and laughter, and who'll continue to love learning all their lives. Because they're a little confused, they never learned the difference between learning and play. Thank you, Ms. Class.
Published by Stenhouse Publishers, 226 York St., York ME 03909. Price: $15.
—Reviewed by Vicky Dill, Schreiner College, Kerrville, Texas.

Educating Hearts and Minds

Educating Hearts and Minds by Catherine C. Lewis. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
When you think of schools in Japan, what images come to mind? More than likely, you envision rows of children being instructed in an orderly and rigid style, and a uniform curriculum geared to scoring well on standardized achievement tests. If so, Catherine Lewis's interpretation of Japan's highly touted educational successes will surprise you.
Lewis's 14-year study traces the successful outcomes of Japan's educational system to a caring, nurturing environment geared to students' needs rather than to a top-down, standardized curriculum. She also shows that the progressive theories of John Dewey and other Western educators may well be more widely accepted by teachers in Japan than they are in the United States.
Did you know, for example, that Japanese kindergartens center on free play, not academic instruction? That Japanese preschools and elementary schools emphasize kindness, collaboration, and persistence—not tracking, ability grouping, or test scores? Or that Japanese teachers see small, family-like learning groups as the model, with students often taking responsibility for their own learning and classroom management? Lewis herself was surprised by the unregimented, child-centered classrooms she found.
Lewis based this ethnographic study on her personal observations and interviews (in Japanese) in a wide range of schools, rural and urban. She also drew on both Japanese and Western research. In a sharp departure from typical accounts of Japanese schooling, the study suggests that student success occurs when all students—not just the brightest or best behaved—come to feel like valued members of the school community.
Published by Cambridge University Press, 40 W. 20th St., New York, NY 10011-4211. Price: $16.95.
—Reviewed by Michael Klonsky, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Democracy, Education, and the Schools

Democracy, Education, and the Schools. Roger Soder, editor. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc., 1996.
When policymakers address democracy in current discussions of education, they often revert to sound bytes or single sentences in mission statements. Their real focus is on achievement. But should high scores on achievement tests be the top educational priority in a democracy? What does a democracy require of its schools?
These authors invite the reader—especially the public educator—to reconsider the relationships among education, democracy, and schooling in the United States. They assert that "education is a bulwark against tyranny; it is the source of freedom; and it leads to good citizenship."
The challenging essays illuminate issues of school change, choice, and curriculum. They are divided into three groups. In the first section, the authors examine several meanings of democracy, asking us to expand our view in the light of both historical and modern perspectives. The essays that follow examine conflicts between the educational purposes of American democracy and of American capitalism. And the last three essays address how American schools should support democracy. Administrators and teachers would do well to give this book a careful reading.
Published by Jossey-Bass Inc., 350 Sansome St., San Francisco, CA 94104. Price: $29.95.
—Reviewed by Terry Beck, Meredith Hill Elementary School, Federal Way, Washington.

Practicing What We Teach

Practicing What We Teach: Confronting Diversity in Teacher Education. Renee J. Martin, editor. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1995.
As I read this book, I was transported back to my first class as a university professor. Many of my students had grown up in relatively homogeneous communities, and they were not interested in issues of diversity; they simply wanted me to teach them classroom strategies. I felt betrayed by their lack of interest, frustrated by the abyss between us, and recommitted to engaging them as teachers of diverse student bodies. Still, I felt alone.
After reading this book, I no longer felt alone. I saw that other educators have had similar experiences, and I began to feel part of a struggle to redefine teacher education. The image the authors paint for teacher education progrms holds great potential for transforming what teachers think about and what they are like.
Teachers, teacher education students, and university professors will appreciate several aspects of this book: the contributors cast diversity, not as a problem, but as a positive element of teaching—a way to offer insights into the educational experiences of different groups in our society and an understanding of the social nature of classrooms and curriculums.
They also address the role our personal histories play in our pedagogy and how our belief systems intersect with theory and practice. In linking theory to practice, they provide examples of real programs and curriculums, and they examine myths and realities in the process.
Published by State University of New York Press, State University Plaza, Albany, NY 12246. Price: $19.95.
—Reviewed by Beverly E. Cross, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Stirring the Chalkdust

Stirring the Chalkdust by Patricia A. Wasley. New York: Teachers College Press, 1995.
For anyone who cares about schools and kids, Stirring the Chalkdust is a must read. Lively and provocative, this book includes case studies of five secondary teachers involved with the Coalition of Essential Schools. Using interviews and observations of the teachers at work, Wasley reveals the potential, the pitfalls, and the costs of school reform—from the point of view of the key change agent, the teacher.
Consistent with the Coalition's nine "common principles," each of the schools is experimenting with more personalized involvement with students, block scheduling; assessment by exhibition; and interdisciplinary teaching. The teachers are moving away from teacher-centered whole group instruction to small group projects and community field trips; from roles as passive, isolated receivers of memos to collaborative leaders.
Wasley concludes that such changes are more complicated and difficult to accomplish than reformers ever imagined. Teachers are exhausted and dismayed, parents and students resist, other faculty members become resentful, and administrators remove support.
Nevertheless, these teachers feel they are serving students better. They also understand another source of their discomfort: They no longer view teaching as a discipline that can be mastered with correct techniques, but as a craft to be honed with skills and wisdom acquired over a lifetime.
Published by Teachers College Press, 1234 Amsterdam Ave., New York, NY 10027. Price: $20.95.
—Reviewed by Gretchen Schwarz, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma.

The Work Lives of First-Year Assistant Principals

The Work Lives of First-Year Assistant Principals by Gary N. Hartzell, Richard Williams, and Kathleen Nelson. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press Inc., 1995.
Given the enormous attention researchers pay to the principalship, it is odd that so little has been written about assistant principals. After all, this position is at once the hub of conflict management in the secondary school and the first step in the socialization of most educational administrators. Here is a book that realistically conveys the poignancy and intensity of the job.
The authors draw on vivid firsthand accounts of new assistant principals. The first essay, in the form of a personal diary, conveys the full range of an assistant principal's activities. Subsequent chapters explore major areas of responsibility: discipline, and working with teachers, with classified staff, and with other administrators.
Two messages powerfully come through these pages. The first is that assistant principals are called upon daily to resolve conflicts that have already exceeded the ability of parents, teachers, and students to resolve. These are often the visible eruptions of social and emotional volcanoes that run so deep we are stunned by the human tragedies that underlie them.
The second message is that virtually none of these new assistant principals knew what they were getting into or felt prepared for the job. This book aims to avert such a predicament.
Published by Corwin Press Inc., 2455 Teller Rd., Thousand Oaks, CA 91320. Price: $21.95.
—Reviewed by Alan Davis, University of Colorado at Denver.

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

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