Teaching and Schooling in America Pre- and Post-September 11
reviewed by Stacy Otto - 2004
Title: Teaching and Schooling in America Pre- and Post-September 11
Author(s): Allan C. Ornstein
Publisher: Allyn and Bacon, Needham Heights, MA
ISBN: 0205367119, Pages: 511, Year: 2003
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Within the pages of his recently-released volume Teaching and Schooling in America Pre- and Post-September 11, Allan Ornstein embarks on an ambitious undertaking, indeed. Framed as an undergraduate-level Social Foundations of Education textbook for teacher education students, Ornstein’s book chronicles “2,500 years of life—the past, present, and future” (p. xv) through a gathering of topics that span teaching, learning, the school as a socializing agent, the history of schooling in America, and ending with a look at inequities across class, race, and education. Naturally, in order to cover 2,500 years of the social context and theory of pedagogy and schooling within a modest number of pages, Ornstein has been forced to pick and choose, and to be brief out of necessity. Chapters are organized around “Focusing Questions,” and then an “Episode” is employed to lead teachers and students through an exercise meant to frame the theoretical content of the section that follows. “Teaching Tips” are frequent interjections within the text, and each chapter ends with a few questions meant to lead discussion and promote in- and out-of-class exercises. Additionally, readers are offered materials pertinent to further study of chapter themes.
The events surrounding the September 11th attacks and the overwhelming feeling that, as a result of them, there has been a sudden interruption in the continuum of time humans call history is surely a topic that begs to be described and theorized within teacher education. Now the need for tools to help teachers and students develop navigation techniques and become critical consumers of world events and their contexts, especially as they are [re]presented through the lens of history and the media, is crucial. Alas, there is no shortage of stories of cruelty and injustice to be told, made sense of, and learned from. The question becomes, “How best to do this?” Ornstein sets out to supply the answer, as he sees it, within the pages of his book.
Ornstein’s introduction sets the tone of the larger text. In it, he characterizes this book as “serious…dealing with the ‘grand generalizations’ about life and death, peace and war, good and evil, inequality and equality, race, culture, and gender” (p. xiii). He goes on proudly to describe the text as purposefully and unapologetically edgy and in-your-face, stemming from his “experience and wisdom” as a “critical and cynical” academic. Ornstein is “not trying to be smug or small-minded,” he is simply “telling it like it is” (p. xv). His expectation is that readers “will find plenty to be upset with,” and this has, in fact, turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
As America approaches another presidential election, as corporate scandal and cyberterrorism affect the everyday lived lives of Americans, and as the blame game gets played out—most recently over the Blackout of 2003—the rush to dichotomize the content of various arguments rather than examining their subtleties sometimes feels like the only way to look at or talk about any topic. Coincidently, dichotomies are also the easiest way to represent “competing” views on a topic. This strategy fits classically into the American way: success or failure, winner or loser, for or against. Not “edgy” at all, but rather one edge or another. These are the sorts of arguments Ornstein makes throughout his book about worldwide cruelty and injustice. His arguments are seemingly structured to identify himself as an “other.” His claims and opinions, which are often not backed up by evidence, fail to connect across the dichotomies he establishes for the reader. In so doing, he abdicates credibility by forming a romantic attachment to the idea of being a liberal voice on issues and events.
In tandem with his opinions, Ornstein reliably pairs “we must…” statements. These are directed at future teachers who will become participants in school organizations and, who will often lack power and freedom within those organizations, as organizational theory research shows (Darling-Hammond, 1995; Hargreaves, 1994; Ingersoll, 2003; Lortie, 1975; Ma & MacMillan, 1999; Rosenholtz, 1989). Ornstein’s text proscribes how, as teachers, readers “must” feel about acts of terror, tragedy, and war. What would likely be of better use to teachers is a guide for navigating difficult and dangerous issues in curricular content which would help them frame for themselves and their students the monumental task of unraveling such events and their consequences within the context of those events. VanSledright (2002), for example, skillfully examined this subject in a study that involved the teaching of “interpretive paradoxes” of history to fifth-grade students called upon to critically analyze the historical enigma of Jamestown’s Starving Time.
Although Ornstein spells out his intentions within the introduction, readers may very well be left confused as to the book’s purpose and utility. Chapters are full of, frankly, startling assertions that simply are not suited to an equitable handling of the subject matter. When discussing the need for and implications of remembering history’s dead—a formidable task and a discussion that need take place following September 11th—Ornstein opines that “As teachers, we must try to provide some reassurance to our students that the dead did not die in vain, good can prevail over evil, and morality can topple immorality” (p. 40). This edict is absent mention of Peter Stearn’s (1994, 1998) important work on the history of emotion, Megan Boler’s (1999) work on emotion and education, Derrida (2001) or even Freud (1953). Subsequent discussions of the origin of hate (p. 134) similarly proscribes teachers’ and students’ thoughts and feelings rather than offering evidence and tools for establishing a dialogue within the community of the classroom. When Ornstein tackles what he describes as the current “gender problem” in schools, he laments the loss of the male hero (John Wayne, Patton, Schwarzenegger) and proclaims that “The only thing left for men to do, on the weekends is to watch the football game—grunt and cheer and escape in a world of modern cavemen and gladiators” (pp. 229–230). In the “Recommended Readings” at the end of Chapter Seven, he cites another of his books that he describes as “A half-serious, half-satire discussion of 27 major issues in education” (p. 434). If Teaching and Schooling in America Pre- and Post-September 11 is, too, such a work, then this insight should be revealed to readers. As it stands, the volume is replete with Ornstein telling it “like it is” and is absent the tools needed for teachers and students to untangle and critically navigate the many mysteries of the past centuries.
Boler, M. (1999). Feeling power: Emotions and education. New York: Routledge.
Darling-Hammond, L. (1995). Policy for restructuring. In A. Lieberman (Ed.), The work of restructuring schools: Building from the ground up (pp. 157-175). New York: Teachers College Press.
Derrida, J. (2001). The work of mourning. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Freud, S. (1953). The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud (J. Strachey, Trans.). London: Hogarth Press.
Hargreaves, A. (1994). Changing teachers, changing times. Toronto: OISE Press.
Ingersoll, R. M. (2003). Who controls teachers’ work?: Accountability, power, and the structure of educational organizations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Lortie, D. (1975). Schoolteacher. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Ma, X. & MacMillan, R. B. (1999). Influences of workplace conditions on teachers’ job satisfaction. Journal of Educational Research, 93 (1), 39–47.
Rosenholtz, S. (1989). Teachers’ workplace. White Plains, NY: Longman.
Stearns, P. N. (1994). American cool: Constructing a twentieth-century emotional style. New York: New York University Press.
Stearns, P. N., & Lewis, J. (Eds.). (1998). An emotional history of the United States. New York: New York University Press.
VanSledright, B. (2002). Confronting history’s interpretive paradox while teaching fifth graders to investigate the past. American Educational Research Journal, 39 (4), 1089–1115.