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The Creative Classroom

reviewed by Jeannette Veatch - 1972

coverTitle: The Creative Classroom
Author(s): Henry Beechold
Publisher: John Wiley, New York
ISBN: , Pages: , Year:
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A book is still needed that will rock the edu­cational textbook industry. This book is not it. The edbiz boys will not lose much sleep over its impact, as it is not powerful enough, practical enough, knowledgeable enough, nor surprisingly, topical enough.

Dr. Beechold mentions many of the books that comprise a genre attacking the Ameri­can educational scene. Holt is there. Silberman is there. Featherstone is there. But largely, I fear, they are in the bibliography or buried in pages of prose. It is hard to believe that he understands, at the classroom level, which is, of course, the gut level, what teach­ers need to do to teach creatively and to teach without texts. Understandably, he seems to want to get on the national scene a la Holt, Hentoff, Goodman, and the rest. There is nothing wrong in that. But the hard, practi­cal, insight-giving instruction that teachers need is missing. I am not awfully sure he knows what he is talking about when he says that Siefried Engelmann's Preventing Failure in the Primary Grades is "a source book for practical classroom activities." You can't get more textbooky than Distar, the beginning reading program based upon that reference. An author confused by Engelmann cannot really promote creative teaching. He seems to prefer I/T/A, certainly the best of the cults in beginning reading, but it too is a text.

In fact, this reviewer, who bears many scars from years of fighting textbooks, asks where he has been? Does he not know of the many fine books, some decades old, that do far more than his on the same topic? Does he not know the books that give definitive know-how to teachers seeking to teach without texts? Books on creative dramatics? Books on creative writing? Books on individualized reading? Books on the language experience approach in beginning reading? Books, in short, that help teachers to depart from the traditional patterns of textbook teaching. There are many. This reviewer, perhaps plaintively, wants to know where has Dr Beechold been all this time when some of us have dared to take on the giants in the educa­tion industry?

Another weakness, the lack of an index, further reduces its value. On the other hand, a fine bibliography, as far as it goes, provides many exciting new references that profes­sionals will eagerly seek out. Many fine books are listed, but too many are omitted of the type that really help teachers. Perhaps this is why the edbiz boys will remain unruffled. No threat here!

It is not that The Creative Classroom is wrong, it is just not right enough. Beechold manages, with one of the most dynamic top­ics possible, to be unexciting. Compare his impact (not accuracy!), for example, with Flesch's Why Johnnie Can't Read. It is a "teachers must" book. Teachers must do this. Teachers must do that.

Dr. Beechold puts all of his chips, so to speak, upon pages and pages of open-ended questions, which could be considered a sneaky way to set up a non-textbook text­book. Yet this is not a bad approach. But it lacks specific help. In addition, the chapter on "Language" is irrelevant. He clearly loves linguistics, and that is his prerogative. But a whole chapter on the structure of language, giving more details than most readers, in­cluding this reviewer, want to know, is out of place. It sticks out like a sore thumb.

His fascination with linguistics seems to damage his own philosophical underpinning by such detailed description of language structure. No teacher that I know of, unless under pressure to pass a course, would bother to study that chapter. It contributes nothing to the book's topic, creative education, and in fact, as one reviewer noted, presents the kind of thing that Beechold purports to decry.

In short, his intent is admirable, but he does not know how to organize a classroom in such a way that a teacher can take his book and follow it along the paths needed to pro­duce creative instruction. He feels strongly, and that is all to the good. He understands what is wrong with the textbooks, but he seems unaware of the gross confusion abroad in the land about how learning takes place.

That perhaps is the heart of the matter. Learning along humanistic lines has definite, identifiable structure. The idea that freedom has no structure is nonsense. The assumption that the behaviorists have a corner on the structure market omits a major support for the no textbook argument. For, in truth, it is the laissez-faire approach that has no struc­ture, and this because it allows the little dar­lings to do as they please. In the current rampant behavior modification intrusion into instruction (where it does not belong) Bee­chold could give insight as to how to separate the roles of content and process. For the hu­manist, content is learned when the process is right. To the behaviorist, content is the process. The humanist will mandate process and know that content will be acquired. The behaviorist will mandate content through a series of actions persuading the learner of its value and consider it process.

There will come a book some day that will significantly reduce the current lay and professional confusion on behavior modifica­tion, accountability, performance contract­ing, performance criteria, and all the other subtle invitations to totalitarianism now prevalent on the educational scene. Hope­fully the unexpected popularity of the British Primary School, the enduring awareness of Sylvia Ashton-Warner's innovative teaching, the development of open-structure class­rooms, will be fitted into measured, substan­tiated positions. As for textbooks, the frequent corruption recognized locally but not investigated by anyone, of textbook pur­chasing agents in thousands of American school districts will continue as long as there is a market for texts. Teacher training main­tains this market, and will continue to do so until the roof is ripped off by a latter day Nader or Dewey. When the market goes, the edbiz boys go. England is poor and refuses to spend its sparse tax dollars for educational garbage. America is rich and spends, for ex­ample, a billion a year on basal reading pro­grams alone. These can be considered garbage, as they have no research support of any significance. More than one investigator is shaken to discover that all attempts to prove the educational validity of texts in reading, in spelling, in grammar, in math, in social stud­ies have failed, and failed dismally. But Beechold doesn't go into that. It is regrettable. I wanted so much to like this book, to feel the excitement of its avowed purpose. In my puzzlement as to why it doesn't " come off," I noticed Dr. Beechold's vita. There was one item that gave me pause: "Member of the Review Committee of the National Teacher's Examination." To this reviewer, there is an incompatibility between non-textbook teach­ing and the National Teacher's Exam. This may explain the weaknesses of its presenta­tion, not its intent. It may not. But why this book, on the most potentially explosive topic in education, amounts to no more than a pfft on a red hot iron is curious indeed.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 73 Number 4, 1972, p. 597-599
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 1607, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 11:38:16 AM

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