Education books

3rd April 1998 at 01:00
Changing Places? (Routledge pound;14.99 ) is sub-titled Flexibility, Lifelong Learning and a Learning Society, but it is David Lodge's title that best conveys its flavour.

Richard Edwards's argument is that in post-formal education everything is changing - the teachers, the learners, the learning places. The bounded field of adult education has become the open moorland of lifelong learning. Distance and work-based learning, portfolio accreditation, flexible contracts and the booming education market are transforming not just provision but assumptions too.

What do we mean when we call for lifelong learning? His answer is: a lot of different things, many of them mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, his thesis isn't always easy to decipher because he presents it as an essay in post-modernist debate. As he rightly says, it is a somewhat abstract and theoretical approach. That's a pity, not least because the Government's recent Green Paper gives convincing evidence of the need to look beyond the slogans for the competing interests that march behind.

So how open is this landscape of lifelong learning, and who will have access to it, and on whose terms? That will depend, Richard Edwards says, on the competing claims of the economy, the market and the credo of participation.

Whichever view prevails, the throwaways and rejects who are the subject of Homeless Youth (by Jan van der Ploeg and Evert Scholte, Sage Publications pound;12.99) are almost certain to be excluded. Street children not only drop out from homes and schools; they are likely to drop out of society too. Educationally they grow increasingly disadvantaged.

Homeless Youth looks at international comparisons, biographical and psychological factors and the mix of behaviour problems that always signal risk. It is clear, straightforward, required reading for social work professionals, if not for educators. But when the book moves to prevention and intervention it has important things to say to all who work in schools. Early school failure is strongly associated with truancy and drop-out; if (and it's a big if) it addresses the reasons for such failure, early intervention seems to work. Some sensible strategies are outlined. This is a thorough, readable and optimistic survey of what is everywhere a growing problem. Recommended.

For Ruth Jonathan, education is at risk as well. Her thesis in Illusory Freedoms: Liberalism, Education and the Market (Blackwell pound;14.99) is that since 1979 there has been an educational revolution: the 40-year post-war consensus that education is a common good has been overthrown. With what, then, have we replaced it? The fashionable, neo-liberal answer - individual autonomy, diversity and choice, the primacy of the market - is destructive, she says, not only of education but of liberty too. The freedoms it offers are illusory. And in this book she tells us why.

Politicians, experts in "illusory freedom", will probably ignore it, but educators should sit up and take notice. Our function, Ruth Jonathan argues, is to open doors for all. Equality is liberty's precondition, and education both reflects it and shapes its social context. Her book is important reading for all who care for education and the politics of learning.

Given the primacy of school-based teacher training, the subject mentor has become increasingly important. How do you make mentoring as effective as it needs to be? Subject Mentoring in the Secondary School (by James Arthur, Jon Davison and John Moss, Routledge pound;12.99) is based on a research project at Canterbury's Christ Church College. It provides a theoretical framework, but its post-modernist jargon will make it inaccessible to hard-pressed teachers told how to "interact with educational discourses at various points on the theory practice continuum".

Mentors and their teacher colleagues want to be helped to read, reflect, observe, evaluate - and need time to do it. This book is of interest to tutors, but it isn't what mentors need.

Michael Duffy

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