Education books

14th January 2000 at 00:00
Guy Claxton reminds us of the obstacles that "education" so easily puts in the learner's way in Wise Up: the challenge of lifetime learning (Bloomsbury pound;16.99). In its fullest sense, he says, learning is the most distinctive of human attributes. How is it, then, that schools and society alike manage to crimp it and confine it and hedge it with fear? Others, of course, have asked that question, and Claxton draws on their findings in his highly readable plea for educational re-thinking. It is creativity and imagination, he argues, and the "new three Rs" - resilience, resourcefulness and reflection - that make real learning happen. More than ever, he claims, these are being squeezed out by our obsession with knowledge acquisition ("this rampant, cognitive cuckoo") and predictable straight-line thinking. Neither life nor learning, he argues, worklike that.

Using psychology and research as well as metaphor and example, he makes a powerful and persuasive case. Learners of every age should read it. So should teachers who may need to be reassured that teaching itself is a lifelong learning process.

A title from the US, How to Succeed in School . . . Without Really Learning by David F Labaree (Yale pound;30, pound;12.50pbk) covers some of the same ground and reaches similar conclusions. Labaree's argument may have interesting overtones on this side of the Atlantic. His thesis is that the American vision of schooling as the key to social moblity has turned public education into an essentially individual and private commodity devoted to the production and protection of more and more qualifications and credentials. Education should be about social cohesion, he says, and what it is now about is social selection, social efficiency, and social control - in some ways, the antithesis of learning.

Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural Education: exploring values in the curriculum edited by Stephen Bigger and Erica Brown (David Fulton pound;16) is a commendable attempt to help teachers tackle one of the more problematic areas of the Ofsted framework. It offers a conceptual model and many good ideas on a subject-by-subject basis. As always the spiritual is difficult to pin down (and the editorial hand is sometimes too conspicuous) but the advice is helpful and sound.

Erica Brown's own Loss, Change and Grief: an educational perspective (David Fulton pound;13) is excellent. She deals sensitively and positively with bereavement, grief and disability in home and school contexts, and in a powerful (and often moving) chapter, "Children in distress", highlights the particular needs of refugee children, the children of prisoners, and the children (one in four) whose parents separate. She says schools should help all children explore these issues, not just support those who suffer from them, and her advice is sensible and to the point. Strongly recommended.

Michael Duffy

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