Education Books

21st July 2000 at 01:00
I had many moments of pleasure from reading The Art of Learning by Patrick Nuttgens. (The Book Guild pound;14.95) For instance, Nuttgens paints a laconically funny picture of Sir Edward Boyle whose Mastermind style of erudition was likely to render others speechless. When someone at a dinner table wondered idly just when it was that the Duke of Clarence drowned in the butt of Malmsey, Sir Edward said: "The 17th of February 1478."

Nuttgens, educated in Edinburgh and brought up in the Arts and Crafts movement, became an academic architect and the author of many books, including an authoritative work on Mackintosh. He went on to be the first director of Leeds Polytechnic, a post that expressed his commitment to "education by doing". Now confined to a wheelchair, he continues to write, lecture and serve on academic bodies.

The meat of his autobiography, though, is its account of the changes in higher education over the past 30 years, reminding us as it does of the ideals - now sadly abandoned - that brought the polytechnics into being.

In its own way, the Nuttgens story is a gentle reminder of the broader purposes of education. The same theme runs through From Another Angle edited by Margaret Himley and Patricia F Carini (Teachers College Press UK distributor EDS, 020 7240 0856, pound;16.95) This is an account of a highly developed way of observing and describing children, developed at the Prospect Center for Education and Research, in Vermont, USA.

We all know about observing children, especially in the context of special needs. This book shows just how far such observation can be taken when it is applied over time by teachers, parents and other educators, wo then engage in reflection and discussion. There is much food for thought here, especially for special educational needs co-ordinators.

Dr Christopher Green favours getting stuck in rather than standing back and observing. The author of Toddler Taming now gives us Beyond Toddlerdom (Random House pound;9.99). Aimed at the parents of five to 12-year-olds, this is a practical book that could be helpful to teachers. Dr Green is hot on such topics as order and organisation, on bedtime questions like: "What day is it tomorrow? What's your first lesson?" I'm ambivalent about "control your kids" books. Parents certainly need practical help, but I feel slightly sad at the notion of child hounded into logical behaviour by an adult who, perhaps, doesn't understand that the child is behaving perfectly reasonably already, except that it's on his or her own terms. As you get older, you see these things more clearly. I have a good friend, slightly older than me, who responds to all tiresome questions with the words, "You'll have to ask a grown-up." Perhaps Dr Green will write a book for the people who have to cope with us.

Love and Chalkdust by Paul Francis (pound;8 from Liberty Books, Much Wenlock, Shropshire TF13 6JQ) is a novel set in a comprehensive school - a setting familiar to the author, who spent 20 years teaching in four of them.

It contains some good characters. I like the deputy head, Rod Spencer. "The adrenalin surged as he wheeled his chair across to the filing cabinet marked Buildings, the drawer marked Security, the catalogues filed under Video. On a good day, like today, it was a tidy, friendly, world." His parents must have been fans of Dr Green.


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