Readings 2015

1) Education, learning, training: critical issues for development, ed. by Gilles Carbonnier, Michel Carton, and Kenneth King.  Brill, 2014. 217p bibl index afp (International development policy, 5) ISBN 9789004281141, LC65 MARC

This text’s editors, associated with the Graduate Institute in Geneva, Switzerland, collected a series of articles on educational polices and development, training and lifelong learning, and migration and massive open online courses (MOOCs). In the opening section, researchers find that “central notions of skills, learning, and both formal and non-formal education have evolved in conjunction with ideological shifts” during the last 40 years (p. 3) and question whether education is a “human right or a driver of economic development” (p. 37).  Researchers in Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico find that “graduates of tertiary technical education earn less on average than university graduates” (p. 59) and in Bolivia increased spending on education “failed to build a skilled workforce” (p. 81). Others report that community learning centres in Bangladesh, China, and India serve as effective vehicles “for lifelong learning/learning society” (p. 102) and explore vocational educational program evaluations using “a capability approach” in South Africa. The concluding section examines the efficacy of educational partnerships between China and African nations, the reasons why western Africans migrate to Europe for education and professional experiences, and the potential for MOOCs to boost higher education in Africa.

reviewed on 1/21/2015

2) Bourn, Douglas. The theory and practice of development education: a pedagogy for global social justice. Routledge, 2015. 212p bibl index ISBN 9781138804760  ISBN 9781138804777 pbk LC196 2014-16351 CIP 

The author, Director of the Development Education Research Center at the Institute of Education, University of London, UK, views development education as “a distinctive pedagogical approach … a pedagogy for global social justice … based on a distinctive approach towards learning” (p. 24).   Development education “enhances the competencies of the learners, enabling them to reflect on their sense of place in a globalized world” (p. 48).  Its discourse currently rests on a range of interpretations and perspectives, exhibited by non-governmental aid organizations, national networks and community of practices, governmental foreign affairs and aid ministries, but should “engage much more with theories around critical pedagogy, globalization, human development, and above all, some of its intellectual roots in the work of Paulo Freire” (p. 66). Development education’s pedagogical framework should be based around four underlying principles – “global outlook, recognition of power and inequality in the world, belief in social justice and equity, and commitment to reflection, dialogue and transformation” (p. 102). Bourn concludes that we need “to promote learning about development and global themes in the classroom, in ways that are meaningful to children and young people” (p. 203).

reviewed on 1/30/2015

3) Shavit, Ari (2013).  My promised land:  The triumph and tragedy of Israel.  New York:  Spiegel & Gray.

The author, a journalist for Haaretz, begins his discussion of Israel by noting that “Israel is the only nation in the West that is occupying another people … and that is existentially threatened” (p. xii).   He describes his great-grandfather’s first trip to Israel in 1897  and then compares his own parallel tour in 2011, the changes in the land following the early Zionist settlements and the tensions with the local population, the development of Masada as a symbol prior to the war for independence, and the conflicts between the Arabs and the newly independent nation of Israel.  The absorption of the Jews from Arab nation, the developments at Dimona, and the changes following the 1967  capture of the West Bank and Jerusalem are seen as partial fulfillment of Zionist dreams.   The author sees the lack of settlement of the issues raised by building communities in areas that were captured in 1967, the nation’s demographic changes, and the 1973 Yom Kippur war created a nation that became more individualistic and troubled than the stereotypic communal perspectives of the earlier days.  He is so much  a part of Israeli political and cultural community that Shavit is able to interview Amos Oz, Aryeh Deri, members of the sex, drugs, and rock & roll and gay communities, the Israeli Arab community, the nouveau very riche and tech enterpreneurs, and his own ambivalence of having an attachment to his great-grandparents’ lives in the diaspora, while feeling truly like an Israeli, a new person in an old-new land.  A complex text that would be a good choice for a book group.

finished reading on February 1, 2015

4)  Hansen, Mette Halskov. Educating the Chinese individual: life in a rural boarding school. Washington, 2015. 222p bibl index afp ISBN 9780295994086  LC5148   2014-7527 CIP

The author’s insights are drawn from a four-year long ethnography of a rural boarding high school south of Shanghai, China.   The text “explores how the Chinese state school, beyond any official educational plan, is a site for intense negotiations of the role of Chinese individuals” (p. 11). Through observations and curriculum study in Thought and Politics and in Language and Literature classes, participation in school activities, student surveys, visits to other schools and towns, and informal discussions with community members, Hansen finds that “irreversible processes of individualization in China are reforming institutional practices from within as well as people’s lives and perceptions” (p. 173) and that “the ideal striving individual takes full personal responsibility for any aspect of his or her current life and future in order to keep working toward a predefined goal … that will in turn make the predefined dream of an ever-improving life and livelihood possible” (p. 143). She also finds that “more than anything, it is mobile phone use among students that symbolized intensified modernization of the rural boarding school, the students’ growing demand for individual space, and the weakened trust in authorities” (p. 62).

reviewed on Feb. 3, 2015.

5) Bowen, Jose Antonio (2012).  Teaching Naked: How moving technology out of your college classroom will improve student learning.  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass.

In this text, selected for the book circle of the campus committee on diversity, the author, dean of the school of arts at Southern Methodist University and a music professor, challenges higher education faculty to flip the curriculum, require information delivery using technology outside of classroom, and no technology – teaching naked – in the classroom.   He suggests that colleges will need to market the value of student-faculty relationships to compete with online courses.  He also concludes that there is a need for flexibilities in instructional delivery, scheduling, classroom design, course and program pricing, and faculty salaries.  It is surprising that this text was selected for a diversity committee discussion for it describes a faculty lifestyle that is threatening for some, particularly those who are railing against blended learning in the CSCU transform 2020 documents.

Reviewed on February 9, 2015

6) International perspectives on home education: do we still need schools?, ed. by Paula Rothermel. Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. 333p bibl indexes ISBN 9781137446848

Editor Paula Rothermel, a leading British researcher, collected essays from 21 international scholars who build on research from Afghanistan, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Germany, India, Israel, Spain, UK, and USA to examine the themes of “control, love and freedom” in home education and its potential “to explore, reform, and innovate our educational system”. Starting with the learning process and parental motivations, Vygotskian learning theory, mathematics learning at home, informal acquisition and development of literacy, and new technologies impacting elective home learners, the authors discuss the tensions and criticisms of home education, including its potential to challenge social unity by developing mistrusting groups who question its effectiveness and its validity using standardized testing. Political conflicts arise from orientations to particular or universal interests, definitions of schooling and family life as human rights, and governmental regulations on diverse forms of home education. The choice of homeschooling is described within a rational decision-making process for a specific lifestyle, as a necessity due to war, poverty, and ideology, as a way for learners to have more control over their own education, and as facilitation of intercultural relations in the home and in the world.

Reviewed on July 14, 2015

7) Matt, Daniel C. (1995). The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

A book from the late Rev. Fred Shapiro’s library. A fine introduction to Kabbalah, receiving. I was particularly interested in the influences of Kabbalah on European thought via Pico della Mirandola to Jacques Derrida’s Deconstruction and the connections to Sufism. Sections include ein sof – Gd as infinite, ein sof and the sefirot, ayin – mystical nothingness, the ten sefirot, creation, letters of the alphabet, mind, meditation, and mystical experience, dangers of contemplation, revelation and Torah, living in the material world, and the wisdom of Kabbalah.

Reviewed on July 14, read during flights to and from DC in June

8) Mama, Raouf (2014).  Fortune’s Favored Child.  Evanston, IL:  Curbstone Press.

These are the early memoirs of Dr. Mama, a distinguished faculty member at Eastern and a friend, with whom I speak French, also a father of twin sons.  This book discusses his early years before he went to the University of Michigan for his graduate studies.  A native of Benin and a celebrated author of folk-tales from his homeland, this story also has elements of the mystical life of his childhood.  As he approached the state exams for his secondary school, he was struck with severe headaches and disturbing dreams.  His elder mother told him that we was not the son of the man who had raised him, that his biological father was a prestigious Imam in Cotonou.  Through voyages to visit his father’s family, trusted healers, and meeting his father, he recovered from his illness and was able to succeed in his tests.  He also learns that he was called “Fortune’s favored child” for in a dispute between his mother’s then-husband and her former husband, Raouf’s biological father, they had consulted the king who had invoked the Calabash of Doom to curse him.  The king’s eldest wife had grabbed the Calabash from the king and saved Raouf from the curse.

His undergraduate career included compulsory national service in his senior year.  After military training, Raouf was assigned to serve as <<un professeur en mission>> at a secondary school in Cove, a village about 100 miles north of the coast at Cotonou.  Most memorable of this time is his courtship of his future wife.  To enhance his value, he spoke to Felicite about his interest in traveling, particularly for studying in the USA.   After succeeding as a graduate student and as a story-teller, travels to Germany for language study, and connections with US scholars, Raouf applied and was invited to study for his MS and PhD at the University of  Michigan.  The first part of his memoirs ends with the welcoming questions of an immigration officer.

I look forward to reading the next installment of Raouf’s memoirs.  Dr. Mama is a popular teacher at Eastern and throughout northeast Connecticut, where he shares his stories in many schools.  This book contains many stories that transport the reader to Benin to learn of ways of looking at the world that would enrich their understanding and appreciation of the wonders and diversity of human life.

Reviewed on July 14, 2015, after reading a gifted book from Dr. Mama’s reading at Mansfield Library during August 2014

9) Fibkins, William L. (2015). The graveyard of school reform: why the resistance to change and new ideas. Rowman & Littlefield.   143p bibl afp ISBN 9781475814538.   LB2822 2015-9672 CIP

Building on a scholarly discussion of school change and his own experiences as a reform leader in two school-university partnerships on Long Island and in Queens, NY, Dr. Fibkins believes that “the most important theme in this book is that both reformers and leaders in local schools have much to gain by becoming more aware of the contribution each group can offer to bring about needed reform” (p. 57).   The author examines “why many school reforms end up in the reform graveyard and what can be done to fix the problem” (p. 19).   He notes that today’s principals, often seen as “chief promoter and marketer of the school’s brand” (p. 65), have little time to serve as instructional leaders.   School reforms need an inside-out leader, a veteran teacher who is assigned to lead colleagues in the risky process of change. His projects’ lead teachers had the “protection of a niche that enabled them to be seen as an added resource and benefit for their school, administration, staff, students, and parents” (p. 99), but needed to be “wary and on guard against the powerful persuasive role of outside-in reformers” (p. 138).

reviewed on August 10, 2015 for CHOICE

10) Dylan, Bob.  Chronicles:  Volume One.  New York:  Simon and Schuster.

A jumbled collection of stories about Dylan’s life and music journey.  He discussed his Gaslight days, mentions Joan Baez and other women folk singers, life with his family in California, and influences on his music.  The text is not written in time sequence.  He jumps from early days to changes in his music style three decades in and then back to the Village in the 60s.  Shared in the CTRPCV 2014 raffle, it was meant to be shared at the 2015 picnic, but we didn’t attend.

Reviewed 8/16

11) Telushkin, Rabbi Joseph (2014).  Rebbe:  The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, The Most Infulential Rabbi in Modern History.   New York: HarperCollins.

The copy of this text was donated by Rabbi Telushkin to Temple Bnai Israel in Willimantic.  It is a dense book with stories about the Rebbe, the lessons and politics of his court,  a history of the Chabad/Lubavitch movement, and the Rebbe’s and the movement’s influence on Israeli, US, and world politics.  The text does discuss the nature of the Messiah, the dispute over the Frierdiker (previous) Rebbe’s library, and the growth of the movement before and after the passing of this Rebbe.  It took a long time to read this book;  I started reading it around the passing of Muriel Narotsky, Debbie’s mother, in the death of winter based on a recommendation by one of her old friends and finished it during this fall holiday season.  09/27/2015

12) Dewey (Pseudonym), Horace. The secret lives of teachers. Chicago, 2015. 250p ISBN 9780226313627, $25.00; ISBN 9780226313764 ebook, $18.00. LB1777 2015-20385 CIP

The author, a high school history teacher in a New York City private school, reasserts the “relevance, utility, and resonance” of the “exchanges between teachers, students, and administrators going about the work of schooling” (p. 242).   Recognizing that his teaching experiences may be “of limited relevance to the great majority of high school teachers” (p. 7), the text may offer “a real-life, nontheoretical example of what does and doesn’t happen in a school where money is effectively no object” (p. 7) and may articulate “a set of issues and provisional answers” (p. 10).  The issues include teachers’ cultural roles, compensation, the rhythms of the school year, curriculum, and interactions with other teachers, students, parents, administrators, community members, student special needs, technology, room placements, and the senior video and trip.   While encountering at a progressive public school a “kid [who] still seems to think there’s some relationship between what goes on in a classroom and what goes on in his life” (p. 149), the author wishes that he “could say something, do something, that would be useful for him” (p. 150).  This text does not fulfill these wishes.

reviewed for Choice, November 4, 2015

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