Education, education, education" has become a politician's mantra but as Alan Ryan pointedly observes, most of our anxieties on the topic are far from new. Nor, indeed, are they really about education: it is uncertainty and flux that people find upsetting.
Hence the title of Ryan's book Liberal Anxieties and Liberal Education (Profile Books pound;14.99), a highly persuasive plea that we should forget the first part of the title and trust the second. Though Ryan can be inconsistent (his claim that half of student time in higher education is essentially remedial sits uneasily with his support for more participation) he is never, never dull. "Delivery," he reminds us (referring to the politicians' favourite word) is not the same as learning, and the national curriculum is not the same as education. And education is not the same as being fitted to earn a living (although the Department for Education and Employment might dispute that).
His book is a clarion call for the sort of education that the much-maligned American educationist and philosopher John Dewey believed in, and it deserves a wide readership.
As Ryan says, many teachers perform miracles in unpropitious situations. Taking Children Seriously (edited by Steve Decker, Sandy Kirby, Angela Greenwood and Dudley Moore, Cassell pound;17.99) is a sharp reminder of just how unpropitious those situations can be. It is a study of the role of counselling and therapy with the children we label as having emotional and behavioural difficulties. Experienced practitioners describe a range of approaches, stressing always that the secret is to listen to what children are trying to tell us. Emotional literacy, they argue, should have the same priority in schools as the literacies of word and number. What, then, of those ferociously intransigent children who "resist education as though their lives depended on it"? They feature here as well. Perhaps the politicians and the pundits should be forced to read about them.
Developing children's self-esteem is a central feature, too, of Rob Barnes's excellent Positive Teaching, Positive Learning (Routledge pound;14.99). This is a book for every teacher. It is full of practical explanations of what can easily go wrong and practical advice, not just on avoiding pitfalls but on winning pupils to enjoy their learning. How do you combine realistic assessment with praise? How do you counter negative perceptions? How do you get feedback? How do you stay enthusiastic in the face of mounting stress? Reading this book will help you rethink your approach.
Most teachers would say that where children fail, inadequate parenting is a significant factor. But what causes that? The great value of Parenting Education and Support (edited by Sheila Wolfendale and Hetty Einzig, David Fulton pound;15) is that it comes at a time when there is a welter of Government initiatives designed to address the problem.
This book is balanced and optimistic and offers excellent examples of good practice in parent-school and parent-agency partnerships. It is also refreshingly down-to-earth about the socio-economic factors. When one family in three is below the poverty line (a generation ago the figure was one in 10) parent support may matter rather more than parent education.