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What the Best College Teachers Do

reviewed by Carmen McCrink - 2005

coverTitle: What the Best College Teachers Do
Author(s): Ken Bain
Publisher: Harvard University Press, Cambridge
ISBN: 0674013255, Pages: 207, Year: 2004
Search for book at Amazon.com

Much has been written recently about the conflict, confrontations, and turmoil of the public schools. Writers of all persuasions have cited the failure of public education and have delivered lengthy editorials in hardcover. Now in What's Best for the Children, Dr. Mario Fantini (dean of education of the State University of New York at New Paltz, formerly with the Ford Foundation) gives us a refreshing change. Here is a book about schools by someone who has been in schools and has knowledge of the role of parent, student, teacher, and administrator. This is a readable, concise, well-written documentary, made easy to follow by the use of a three-part format. Fantini first explains parent accountability in schools and then describes the possible collision course as teacher power develops and flexes its muscles. Finally, he offers a possible solution to this collision course. The author is unique in that he does not dwell on the negative but also focuses on the many positive aspects of American education and offers some solutions to the problem he has accurately depicted.

Fantini points out that at one time parents and educators had basically the same goals, plans, and agenda of what is best for the children. He describes the economics and politics of a school system and then gets down to the real issue, the human interaction within the schoolhouse. He pictures how the system dehumanizes both teachers and students, and how, out of necessity, teachers, since they were underdogs, began to organize. He discusses, too, the confusion that has arisen in the effort to make the individual teacher and the collective teacher congruent, and he describes the visible teacher today: the collectivized, militant "teacher representative" rather than the dedicated, knowledgeable classroom leader committed to the best educational opportunity that can be given to children in the classroom.

Fantini accurately describes the change in the forces which direct and control the teacher in the school. At one time it was assumed that the principal was the leader of the faculty and the superintendent the chief leader of all professionals in the district. Today, however, the reality is quite different, and a far less-qualified "building representative" or "district union leader" can wield much more power over the educational process without bearing the level of professional accountability normally assigned to an administrative officer in the school system.

The point is stressed repeatedly that on many occasions the student is not served by the public school. The quest for power and control frequently means the student comes out last rather than first, and the collision is described as being between parent and teacher. In truth, however, the collision is between power groups, specifically teacher organizations and politically-oriented boards of education. Neither of these groups has an accountability factor to the student or to the process of education. The priority which unions have given to welfare for their own members is thoroughly described, and the growth of the New York City teachers' union is stressed in the second segment of the book. This is one criticism of the book. To generalize about the overall direction of American public education based upon the unique developments, forces, and personalities found in New York City is, at best, risky and probably erroneous. Perhaps this segment of the book reflects something of the author's own bias as he describes matters relating directly to Albert Shanker, A.F.T., U.F.T., and New York City teacher-community conflict.

The potential of alternative public schools is also explored and offered as a system to re-form public education. The alternative system described, however, lacks specifics and gives credence to traditional educators who describe it as something of a Chinese menu with "column A" and "column B", and "two hours after you have eaten you feel hungry once again." If the alternative school system is to gain strength, it must give coordination with other educational facilities a high priority. Our population is mobile, and the very essence of alternative education emphasizes change and stresses options. Thus the possibility exists that more and more choices for education might be made on the basis of that which is popular, that which is likeable, and that which gives immediate gratification. Such a system might not efficiently use mature judgment and empirical data in education.

The book will serve the reader well, since it chronicles the last ten years of American education. Yet the essential question posed in the title remains unanswered, as perhaps it must, since that would be the keystone in alternative education. There cannot be a definitive and terminal answer.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 107 Number 2, 2005, p. 281-284
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11373, Date Accessed: 10/28/2021 3:55:01 AM

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About the Author
  • Carmen McCrink
    Barry University School of Education
    E-mail Author
    CARMEN L. McCRINK is Chair and Assistant Professor of the Educational Leadership/Higher Education Administration Department at Barry University. She earned her Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration, with History as an outside field, from the University of Miami. Dr. McCrink's recent publications include the following: Brown, J.O., McCrink, C.L., & Maybee, R. (2004). Beyond college credits: How experiential learning portfolios foster adult students' personal and professional competencies and development. Journal of Continuing Higher Education (in press). Wolman, C., McCrink, C., Figueroa, S., & Harris-Looby, J. (2004). The accommodation of university students with disabilities inventory (AUSDI): Assessing American and Mexican faculty attitudes toward students with didabilities. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education (in press). Rodriguez, D., McCrink, C., Pelaez, G., Paneque, O. & Stallions, M. (2004). Leadership and learning n a bilingual society. BilingLatAm 2004, First International Symposium about Bilingualism and Bilingual Education in Latin America, (pp. 301-308). Buenos Aires, Argentina: English Speaking Scholastic Association of the River Plate (ESSARP). Current Projects: McCrink, C. & Rice, E. (2004, September). Identifying the leadership practices of Latin American Sisters: A look at educational administrators and their respective sociological context for future directives. Paper to be presented at the 18th Annual Women in Educational Leadership Conference, Lincoln, NE. Rodriguez, D., & McCrink, C. (2004-2005). Presently conducting study, Identifying common themes in the teaching practices of Latina teachers as graduates of a TESOL education program: Reflecting on experiences and measuring self-efficacy for future directives. McCrink, C. L. (2002). Hispanic women: Building a room for self-efficacy. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 1(3), 238-250.
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