Think, Care, Act: Teaching for a Peaceful Future
reviewed by Kevin Gary - March 15, 2013
Title: Think, Care, Act: Teaching for a Peaceful Future
Author(s): Susan Gelber Cannon
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1617354260, Pages: 246, Year: 2011
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Susan Gelber Cannons Think, Care, Act: Teaching for a Peaceful Future is a useful resource for K-12 educators, especially at the middle school level. Under the organizing frame of peacemaking, it offers numerous hands-on examples and resources for educating for peace. Transcending the curricular wars (pun intended), Cannons theoretical underpinnings are generous, drawing as much from the scholarship of character education as she does from critical pedagogy. There is a practical what-works spirit that animates the book, filtered through the lens of an experienced teacher. Though referencing many research voices, Cannons primary source is her own teaching experience, citing throughout her many successes and what she finds works as a teacher.
Contributing to the scholarship of peace education, Cannon aims to change an existing belief systema culture of acceptance of war as a method of solving international problemsto a new paradigmone in which human rights, social justice, sustainable development, social action, and creative diplomacy are promoted (p. xxiii). Towards this end, her book is organized around three essential parts for building peace: thinking, caring, and acting. Each part contains three chapters that begin with a brief explanation of the theory and scholarship that supports peace education and then features activities, learning strategies, and key assessments that Cannon incorporates into her own teaching. And each chapter concludes with a student feedback section that cites selected anecdotal comments from her students (all positive) that document the impact that her peace pedagogy has on her own students.
By thinking Cannon means developing in students the required critical thinking to analyze and understand the world from a social justice perspective. Moving quickly from theory to practice, Cannon explains how she does critical thinking with students, listing multiple strategies that she employs to enable her students to find their own voice. A key dimension of Cannons thinking section is directed towards the development of media literacy and critical imagination in students. Peace education must, Cannon insists, teach students to critically consume media, as well as critically read history. With these aims in view, Cannon shares how she develops media literacy in students with her units on 9-11 and the presidential elections. These guide students into becoming critical consumers of media messages and savvy at crafting balanced and informed messages.
Turning to history, she begins by imparting to students a solid knowledge base of the multiple cultures and perspectives that have shaped history. She then has her students ponder what could have been as part of her history Utopia Project (p. 40). A related project is the Giver Utopia Project. This assessment develops her students critical imagination by having them imagine and create a just, sustainable community. These open-ended projects, notes Cannon, require that teachers be comfortable with relinquishing control, playing more the role of facilitator and at times moderator so as to encourage students to deeply listen to each other when they share ideas . . .(p. 49).
Thinking, Cannon underscores, must be joined with caring. Care refers to turning classrooms and schools into caring communities that extend care beyond the classroom to the entire world. Moving beyond the classroom, Cannon describes how her school, Episcopal Academy, creates structures that nurture an ethos of care throughout the school community, including strong parental involvement, uniform sweaters with ten stripes that symbolize and remind students of the schools ten virtues, and a strong advising program that makes personal connections with families. In addition, middle school students participate in an ungraded class designed to give them time to engage in self-discovery and age-appropriate exploration of life issues (p. 56). Within her own classroom, Cannon infuses care with a strong emphasis on multicultural education, using multicultural literature, poetry, and prose to cultivate empathy. Again, she features several of her concrete projects that do this very thing.
In her final section Cannon addresses action. Action means local and global actions that create a more just world. Again, chronicling several classroom assessments and school wide initiatives, Cannon shows how she and her school successfully develop students civic engagement. We must, argues Cannon, help students develop their own tools for solving problems (p. 166).
Considering her own school in light of cultivating care, Cannon remarks, Fortunately, as in many schools, there are several structures in place in our middle school to enhance connectedness and cooperation among students, teachers, and families (p. 55). This quote brings to mind the many schools, especially public, urban, lower SES schools that lack such structures. Episcopal Academy, with an advertised teacher-student ratio of 7:1, a rate of 100% of students going on to four-year colleges, and academically gifted students, sounds like an oasis immune to the scripted curricular controls, punitive teacher evaluations, obsession with test scores, and class sizes approaching 30 or more, that increasingly press in upon so many teachers.
While Cannons practical approach to teaching peace is appreciated, one wonders how her projects might be enacted in lower SES schools. An awareness of how her pedagogy is situated and privileged is missing. Cannons approach seems far afield from the popular teacher-centered approaches found in books like Doug Lemovs Teach Like a Champion. Peace education must reach a larger audience, but I fear that mainstream educators reading Cannon will reach what a visiting teacher to Deweys Lab school concluded a century ago: the methods in use here do not work under the same conditions that we are subject to (Dewey, 1990, p. 93). Phillip Jackson suggests that this excuse accounts for Deweys limited reception in mainstream education. While I would prefer that teachers everywhere be guided by the constructivist pedagogy of Think, Care, Act, most instead are drawn to Lemovs controlling, teacher-centered techniques. Why is that? That is the question Cannons next book needs to explore so that her valuable ideas gain greater traction.
Dewey, J. (1990). The School and Society / The Child and Curriculum. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lemov, D. (2010). Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.