Common Schools, Uncommon Futures: A Working Consensus for School
Renewal by Barry S. Kogan, editor
Albert Shanker claims we should beef up teacher preparation.
Larry Cuban discusses the changes in schools during the past two decades. Jerome Bruner needs a refresher course on contradictions, and not from Gerald Bracey. In the best essay here, Kern Alexander says give us liberty and give death to educational funding inequality. Liberty intertwines with educational advantages.
Little surprises in “Learning, Teaching, and Existential Meaning” by Nel Noddings, except the skill with which Noddings weaves ideas. Reading like a neoprogressive existentialist’s dream, Noddings criticizes how curricula fit into student lives. Students cram and forget because education, for many students, serves few purposes beyond the classroom. “Has the study of mathematics nothing to do with self-awareness, eternity, gods, creation, politics, beauty and reality? If it does not require it, why study it?” Instead, adults propagandize, telling students that if students don’t learn algebra, computers, and foreign languages, they will be left behind, joining homeless individuals pushing shopping carts.
Noddings writes that existential meaning matters for motivation. Personal significance affects memory. Existential meaning arises when teachers tell inspiring stories about ideas, themselves, or others--the “Who Am I?” and “What should I do?” questions. Adults, she suggests, should discuss the dignity of work. Jobs done by non-college graduates should not be denigrated. Noddings favors multiple education career tracks. Some see vocational education as a trap, but the college path traps many, too. Noddings argues that if students succeed at one thing and learn how to learn, they can switch paths later.
No matter what teachers teach, Noddings holds that unintended lessons spring from the full characters of adults. Worth a look.
—Book reviews by JT Fournier, last updated July 5, 2009