Off the shelf

28th March 1997 at 00:00
If you cannot find the word you want, are you allowed to invent one? The thought struck me as I read Antiracism, Culture and Social Justice in Education, edited by Morwenna Griffiths and Barry Troyna (Trentham Books Pounds 14.95).

Based on contributions made at the 1994 annual conference of the British Educational Research Association (BERA), the book presents a range of articles representing recent thought in the area of race and education. There is plenty to mull over here - Ghazala Batti's chapter on Asian children and families is particularly good, and she presents the perceptions and experiences of Asian parents in ways that will open the eyes of many teachers in multicultural schools.

For my money, the book is worth this chapter alone. Be warned, however, that from some of the other writers you will have to bear with a style of utterance which at times triumphs over the English language. One contributor for example, a confirmed believer in the do-it-yourself vocabulary, writes not only of "conflictual dimensions" but of teachers who "constantly problematise the processes of teaching and learning".

Just how recent and tenuous is the grasp which even the intellectual world has on anti-racist principles is well illustrated by a story told against himself by Sir Ross Chesterman in his account of his Wardenship of Goldsmiths' College from 1953 to 1974. "I remember skating dangerously on thin ice when, in response to a question, I said, 'The trouble is that X is the nigger in the woodpile.' " His students were predictably outraged, but the truth is, of course, that people of his and my generation learned such sayings at an early age. Our teachers used them, and they were in the stories which we read. As a result we now quite consciously have to guard against their slipping out.

Chesterman's memoir, Golden Sunrise (The Pentland Press Pounds 14.50), is written with clarity and great candour. He is particularly good on the personal pressures he endured as he built up the College from the low point it had reached after the War. Anyone who remembers training colleges as they once were - grown up boarding schools smelling of polish and peopled by gowned tutors and respectful students - will enjoy this book.

Another great educator - one whose ideas seem to many to have a whiff of elitism - is Kurt Hahn. Think of him and you automatically bring to mind Gordonstoun and an image of the young Duke of Edinburgh in a singlet. He, famously, enjoyed it. Charles, Prince of Wales, equally famously, did not. Perhaps the robust Hahn method, for all its talk of diversity and inclusivity, was not best suited to a cello-playing Goons fan.

A closer look at Hahn's life, though, shows the conventional judgment to be unfair. A recent account from the States - Kurt Hahn's Schools and Legacy - tells the story of his innovatory and courageous early work in Germany. We read of Hahn's arrest by the Nazis, following an impassioned letter to former pupils of Salem, his school, demanding that they "terminate their allegiance either to Hitler or to Salem". Martin Flavin, the author, was a Salem pupil and his personal commitment shows. His book is available from the Middle Atlantic Press, 1035 Philadelphia Pike, Wilmington DE 19809. $15 plus $9 air mail postage.

For Hahn, there was therapy in athletic endeavour - and which of us, pounding the treadmill in the expensive gym, would argue? There is also, though, at least as much therapeutic value in aesthetic activity. Much great art, after all, did as much for the artist as it now does for the viewer, and we all know of the powerful connections between children's drawings and their inner feelings. In Something To Draw On (Jessica Kingsley Pounds 14.95) Carol Ross shows how to make these connections come alive in the classroom, making practical suggestions which are well suited to the way that most primary teachers want to work.

Particularly striking is her description of a project which she did with a Year 6 class that had been through a long period of disruption - different teachers, a succession of acting heads. "They were unsettled, untrusting and unco-operative...trapped in a spiralling dynamic of negativity." (Heard that before have you?) Many school problems arise from the failure of adults to pay proper attention to their pupils. Schools are places where people listen to children or they are nothing, which is why I so much liked Communicating with Children and Adults by Pat Petrie (Arnold Pounds 10.99) now in a second edition.

A practical book, with lots of exercises and examples, it is aimed at all workers with young children. Primary heads could consider using it with classroom assistants and parent helpers, though there is much in it for teachers too.

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