Review of Controversies In The Classroom: A Radical Teacher Reader
Controversies In The Classroom:
A Radical Teacher Reader
Edited by Joseph Entin, Robert C. Rosen and Leonard Vogt with a foreword by Deborah Meier
Published by Teachers College Press,
September 2008, New York: 190 pp.
Given the recent positive change on the political landscape, perhaps there will be a more receptive audience for the underlying message of this provocative book than might have existed during the past eight years.
As one of the titles in the Teaching for Social Justice series (under the guidance of William Ayers, a timely figure), this collection of prescriptive essays by progressive educational professionals unflinchingly tackles such issues as war, gender and sexuality, sweatshop economics, even testing and tracking.
As noted in the introduction, while “…progressive educators have long had a significant impact on educational practice and policy across the United States…a renewed and vigorous counterattack against progressive educational innovation has arisen. Conservatives (and others) have been promoting English-only education, an expanded role for the private sector in public education, and uniform standards for students and schools through one-size-fits-all testing and assessment.”
Consider this a significant pushback to the lamentable world of No Child Left Behind and the prevailing philosophy that education should be delivered and evaluated according to the business model.
As Deborah Meier observes in her impassioned and thoughtful foreword, “Teaching for Social Justice begins and ends with questions…Social justice teaching tries to tell the truth…Goodbye to complacency in a heartless world.”
So there are chapters (in some cases, complete with modified lesson plans or case studies and trigger questions to prompt classroom discussion) on the Vietnam War, examining terrorism, exploring the moral implications of global sweatshops or considering why students still sit separately by race even in ethnically diverse high schools.
Be warned that many of the authors stake out extreme positions, or express them in extreme language. In the chapter about the “English only” policy, Lilia Bartolome and Pepi Leistyna write that “what we are experiencing currently across the nation, as in the past, is…a veiled (and not so veiled) racist ideology.” Hmm.
And I doubt that many classroom teachers, no matter what community they teach in, would be comfortable with the idea of “Bringing sexual orientation into the Children’s and Young Adult Literature classrooms” that Patti Capel Swartz recommends. Or, for that matter, with attempting to introduce women’s studies in the elementary classroom.
Still, there’s something refreshing about delving into something so unapologetically radical—it’s a welcome antidote to the sometimes numbing barrage of less overtly ideological educational books that appear and all too often blur together.#