Why Kids Love (And Hate) School: Reflections on Difference
reviewed by Sarah Elizabeth Barrett - July 03, 2019
Title: Why Kids Love (And Hate) School: Reflections on Difference
Author(s): Steven P. Jones & Eric C. Sheffield (Ed.)
Publisher: Myers Education Press, Gorham
ISBN: 1975500679, Pages: 224, Year: 2018
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Schools can and should be inclusive communities where no individual or group is left out, where no individual or group receives fewer opportunities than others, were no individual or group is prejudged (p. 2).
Why Kids Love (and Hate) School is an edited volume of essays about how students who belong to marginalized or neglected groups might be better served within schools. In the introductory chapter, the editors, Stephen P. Jones and Eric C. Sheffield, outline why they feel the book is necessary: Our radically growing diversity calls for a service ethic one that invites us into the organized practice of otherness (p. 3).
Jones and Sheffield use the term other to indicate anyone who is not able-bodied, heterosexual, white, middle-class, and English-speaking. According to them, more than half of the student population is racially other, and this number is only increasing. However, they continue, the demographics of teachers has remained more or less the same, with the majority being white. They then acknowledge that the other must be defined in broader terms than just race, saying, Our radically growing otherness is a strength only if people work at reformulating our approach to teaching and learning so that we become more sensitive, inclusive, equitable, and fair (p. 6)
It is difficult to disagree with this sentiment, but how to do it? That is the question that this book attempts to answer in various ways and from various perspectives. One perspective is that teachers need to be culturally responsive. Ladson-Billings (as cited on p. 58) describes culturally responsive educators as needing to focus on academic achievement, demonstrate cultural competence, and show critical consciousness.
Based on this, perhaps one could expect a book designed to promote a more sensitive, inclusive, equitable, and fair approach to learning to demonstrate something parallel by focusing on positive exemplars, demonstrating a recognition of the professional cultures in which teachers operate, and encouraging critical consciousness.
How does this book measure up?
On the first point, this book does well. Each chapter is designed to provide exemplars and background to assist the reader in serving all students, including marginalized and/or neglected groups such as Latinx, Black, Muslim, and LGBTQ students, as well as English-language learners, students with exceptionalities (including gifted students), students living in poverty, and students dealing with ongoing emotional trauma.
There are a couple of expositional chapters as well as many narrative chapters that describe the practices of exemplary teachers. These chapters feature student voices along with the voices of teachers who make the material they teach relevant and challenging. None of these chapters provide anything especially revolutionary, and some seem a little self-serving, but all provide space for students to express what they value in the teachers they love. This is a central theme in the book; most of these chapters seem to suggest that students in marginalized or neglected groups seek authentic relationships with teachers above all else. Their academic success hinges on feeling cared for. In this way, the book more than adequately provides examples of its aims. If a reader picks up this book wondering what sensitive, inclusive, equitable, and fair approaches to teaching and learning look like, they will not be disappointed.
There is, however, a major gap with respect to the second criterion in that the teachers in this book seem to operate in professional vacuums. There is little discussion of collaboration between teachers in a given school (except for in a single chapter), and yet for schools to become more beloved to marginalized students, I believe collaboration amongst teachers in a given school will be necessary.
On the third point, the book does gesture toward critical consciousness in a few chapters, most notably in one chapter featuring research on LGBTQ narratives and another that provides an opportunity for readers to reflect on how programs for underserved communities might be supporting an economy that requires their continued subordination. These sections have the potential to encourage critical consciousness. However, throughout most of the book, I wondered at the limited acknowledgement of larger structural issues that have contributed to the education systems continued neglect of certain populations of students. It is true that teachers can make a difference in the lives of individual students, but as one of the authors points out, positive academic and emotional outcomes have historically accrued to students representing traditional lines of power and privilege (p. 95). This is an issue that we educators need to work towards addressing together, whether through our unions or other associations, locally, at the state level, and federally.
Having said all of that, I did enjoy reading this book. It is engaging and inspiring. Still, I found myself wishing the editors had provided a coda or final chapter to tie it all together, perhaps providing ideas for educators moving forward.
Teacher educators could easily use this book as they work with their preservice students, or it could be studied in a professional learning community seeking to create more inclusive classrooms. Each story provided is worth knowing about and discussing. Indeed, for any educator looking for a little inspiration to gently start some difficult conversations in their teacher education classes or with K-12 teachers, this volume might be a good place to begin.