Education books

12th June 1998 at 01:00
The value of knowledge," says a character in Anne Michaels' novel, Fugitive Pieces, "is that it makes one's ignorance more precise." That may be true of much educational research. But Researching Racism in Education, part edited by the late Barry Troyna (with Paul Connolly) and published now to commemorate his work in this important field (Open University Press pound;15.99), is about methodology more than findings.

Look out for Anuradha Rakhit, movingly restrained on her experiences as a teacher in the Midlands, or Mehreen Mirza, wrestling bravely with the black feminist self-definition. But don't expect to transform your school, colleagues or students. This is the real world - messy and imperfect.

Which might equally be said of the schools in Answering Back: girls, boys and feminism in schools, a survey by Jane Jenway and Sue Willis of how two decades of equal opportunities have changed - or not - attitudes and practices (Routledge pound;12.99). True, the schools described are Australian, but the voices are familiar and authentic. So are the paradoxes, not least in the current "moral panic" about boys' achievement.

And so are the conclusions. Unreconstructed feminist policy has its limitations, the authors say. The most important thing is to help schools - and people - change their habits.

There is more research, rooted in teaching experience, in Drama, Narrative and Moral Education: exploring traditional tales in the primary years by Joe Winston (Falmer pound;14.95). This starts, indeed, with a drama lesson: the acting out, by a class of nine-year-olds, of the untold end of The Pied Piper.

No shortage of moral complexity here. The first part of the book argues that myth and drama have always been related and always served to explore ambiguous moral values.

The second part uses familiar examples. Try the chapter on Jack and the Beanstalk as ethical exploration - and then read on. When press and politicians are clamouring for moral absolutism in schools, this needs saying.

School Choice and Competition by Philip Woods, Carl Bagley and Ron Glatter (Routledge pound;16.99) is a readable study of market forces' impact on schools and parents. It is based on in-depth research in three contrasting areas that looks at school reactions to the pressures that created, inter alia, GM schools, league tables and a boom in braided blazers.

Unsurprisingly, the findings confirm a tendency for schools to be more concerned with presentation than process, and with "attainment" rather than educational achievement. In each area the weakest schools suffer from attrition of confidence and resources. There are other effects. One school stopped serving samosas at open evenings. Important, thought-provoking reading.

Finally, Uneasy Chairs edited by Jeffrey Richards (Innovation in Higher Education Unit, Lancaster University pound;7.95) offers a riveting account of what it is like to be a professor in our brave new world of more but ever cheaper higher education.

James Wright, vice-chancellor at Newcastle, sets the tone with his chapter "Relentless Rise, or Decline and Fall?". We may soon be asking that question, other contributors suggest, about our universities themselves. Short, sobering, strongly recommended.

Michael Duffy

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