Education books;Books

19th February 1999 at 00:00
You only really understand how fast everyone else is going if, like me, you have taken a deliberate decision to slow down. Try strolling across the forecourt of London's Victoria Station at 8.30am nodding amiably, greeting police officers and raising your hat to every woman you meet.

Then try to talk your way out of custody.

There is a serious side to this, and it concerns many teachers. Richard DeGrandpre argues in Ritalin Nation (Norton pound;15.95) that high-speed living becomes addictive - that children who are affected simply cannot cope with slowing down. Take away the machine-gun-like background of television, video, computer games, movement from one carer to another, put them in a slow-moving structured environment - an orderly tea table, story-time in a classroom - and, he says, they cannot operate.

These are the children who are labelled as having Attention Deficit Disorder. One way of helping children with ADD is to give them the drug Ritalin. What Ritalin does, says DeGrandpre, is fire up the brain so that the child who is disturbed by calm and quiet is made able to cope by being subjected to chemical stimulation. He asks whether we, as parents, teachers or citizens, are happy to have constructed a society like this in which "leisure, slowness, idleness, relaxation, simplicity" are replaced by "an almost singular obsession with speed".

His book is about the United States - indeed, he makes comparisons about Ritalin use which are favourable to Britain. Even so, most teachers here are familiar with ADD, and many of our children are already on Ritalin. Sadly, this book is for us, too.

After that, a book about Henry Morris (pound;9.95 from Educational Heretics Press, 113 Arundel Drive, Bramcote Hills, Nottingham NG9 3FQ) comes as non-chemical relief. Henry Morris, chief education officer of Cambridgeshire for 30 years up to the mid-Fifties, was the man who made community education come to life in the Cambridgeshire Village Colleges with which he is always associated. Author Tony Jeffs writes: "Morris built, in the most inauspicious circumstances, institutions which, if opened today, would be heralded as innovative precursors of an educational future worthy of the 21st century."

The tragedy is, says Jeffs, that politicians today are less willing than they should be to learn from the great names of the past - forgotten educational prophets who are "a mite too critical and overly iconoclastic for the palate of contemporary policy-makers".

Also from Educational Heretics Press comes the story of another pioneer. Margaret McMillan by Viv Moriarty (pound;7.95) tells the story of a Victorian woman teacher and biologist who worked among deprived children in Deptford, south-east London, at the end of the last century. Margaret McMillan believed that the children she encountered needed gardens - "Urban children had been denied this secret idyll of childhood". The author points out that what urban children tend to get today are surveillance cameras.

It is interesting to speculate on how Margaret McMillan would have felt about Effective Teaching and Learning in the Primary Classroom by Sara Shaw and Trevor Hawes (pound;14.95 plus pound;1.05 pamp;p from The Services Ltd, PO Box 12, Leicester LE2 5AE). She would probably have been intrigued. She was interested in neurology and physiology, and this book draws heavily on recent work on the brain and how children learn. I have used this column before to suggest that the current focus on school improvement pays plenty of attention to teaching and too little to learning. Here is a useful book that attempts to redress the balance.

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