Educational Administration in Secondary Schools: Task and Challenge
reviewed by C. Burleigh Wellington - 1966
Given the difficult assignment of reacting to four distinct studies, with only the theme of secondary education in common, Professor Wellington sharply challenges the tendency to write for the professor in need of content for his course. An effective work, he tells us, should be structured in terms of a philosophy and carefully avoid unsupported generalization. The crucial test for textbooks like these is to be found in their ability to make students think, and the reviewer implies that the field remains openthat the effective books are still to come.
A book is always written for its reader, as any professional writer will agree. Yet sometimes a professor is so intent on selecting a book which provides him a structured course in step-by-step detail, from course outline to examination and discussion questions, that he forgets the reader. Furthermore, while education may be criticized by those in other professions for lack of content, it becomes embarrassing when early students of the field verify this accusation by calling education books shallow, "one great big generalization," and lacking in basic philosophy. Unfortunately, two of the books under review, on general secondary education and student teaching, are apparently aimed at the professor in need of a structured course. They offer to the student reader a series of unproved generalizations of others' ideas and lack any philosophy in which their viewpoint might be grounded. The administration book is barely better; and only the book of readings, encompassing such writers (with their own depth of philosophy) as Allport and Carl Rogers, will escape student condemnation.
A book in the field of secondary education might be constructed around one of several viewpointsthat all secondary schools should function to bring about thinking in students, for instance, or that secondary schools must be built around the structure within which all learning really takes place, or that secondary schools should aim at understanding pupils and their differences. In the light of any strong philosophy, curriculum, discipline, administration, learning process, and planning may conceivably be made meaningful extensions or logical outcome of basic aims and beliefs. When such topics are presented as isolated areas to be covered by courses in secondary education, they necessarily evolve into meaningless lists of others' ideas (which often turn out quite inconsistent with each other). The student reader rightfully objects to such a lack of cohesiveness and depth, which may interfere with his own thinking.
VIEWS ON DISCIPLINE
As an example, we might examine the topic of discipline as treated by these several books. Cyphert, in the book of readings, reprints four articles with direct bearing on teacher control of the learner. Arthur Combs presents behavior as a personal matter: "People do not behave according to the facts as others see them; They behave in terms of what seems to be so." He continues with a discussion of self-concept: "The most important ideas which affect people's behavior are those ideas they have about themselves."
Ned Flanders writes, in this book of readings, on research and the classroom climate. He discusses direct and indirect teacher influence in situations where goals are at first unclear and are then clarified by the learner. Marie Hughes goes on to cover teaching as interaction by saying, "The good teacher provides pupils with opportunities for making choices and for using a wide range of mental processes." Rogers in his article asks ten basic questions based on the "Can I" approach which arise from the teacher's subjective point of view on relationships. These articles, instead of starting with strict rules, offer the student reader opportunities to think about the philosophy behind discipline and about his role in handling students. Research findings substantiate the views of the various writers, and the student reader is offered ample chance to attempt to ferret out his own judgments about discipline.
In contrast to Cyphert, Batchelder seems to be writing to the professor who needs many organized crutches for every topic. Beginning on page 80 (and not page 90 as stated in the table of contents), there follow twenty pages on discipline and no less than five lists totalling sixty-two suggestions. The education student (unless forced to memorize for a test, heaven forbid) may skim through; but meaning is soon lost in lists, and no thought-provoking issues are present to stretch his thinking.
Douglass states several fundamental principles: "The first and major approach to the matter of discipline is the planning of worthwhile and interesting learning activities." The reader, having no idea of the meaning of "worthwhile" and "interesting," is immediately lost. There follow twenty-four fundamental principles which the author says have been "recommended" by principals and successful teachers to inspire good behavior. The chapter continues with twelve suggestions for use by "wise" teachers in individual conferences, and seventeen "effective" suggestions for use in punishment. It seems to matter very little what reader these books may aim for, since he is pretty sure to be bored, and most unlikely to engage in examining the important issues involved in establishing a philosophy of discipline.
Williams, writing to administrators and not teachers, makes one generalization which many educators, lay citizens, and foreign critics will openly question, that "the school operates within the framework of democratic living." Many critics are stating that in reality American schools are the most autocratic institution in the United States today. Just as unrealistic are other suggestions for acceptable student behavior, among them the following: (1) "Faith in the student's ability to want to do the right thing" (and how do teachers really feel about the habitual offenders in the principal's office?); (2) "A courteous and patient attitude on the part of the teacher" (after a hard day and Johnny's fifteenth trip to the wastebasket?); (3) A stimulating learning situation accompanied by good teaching method" (and in what percentage of classrooms do we find them?), and (4) Adequate communication between faculty and students as to conduct standards" (does he mean that list of Dotfts handed out at the beginning of each year?). We certainly need to define ideals in education today, but we cannot assume that such ideals are in operation; the student reader must be helped to function in the situation as is. Williams is also enamored of lists with eleven suggestions for school morale and nine to the principal, one of which urges a special adjustment room for fifteen to twenty of the difficult cases, who are assigned for the entire day or longer without any school privileges, and where two or three teachers rotate. Certainly this suggestion emphasizes the fact that, although the author expresses the ideal of democracy functioning in schools, he himself cannot carry through in the real situation, and thus he is of little aid to the student reader. One almost pictures these two or three teachers with large sticks and brass knuckles.
Discipline is a fascinating topic; much research has been done by psychologists and educators; and there are many far-reaching issues which could be presented in such a way that students would feel impelled to discover some solutions of their own: Can you, as a person, function democratically, and what is entailed? Who should punish, and are punishment and discipline different? Is punishment dangerous, as some experts like Hymes suggest? Why do youngsters choose to do the opposite of what is required? Are there ways of helping them to want to make "right" choices, or are choices unavailable to them? What forces in a school inhibit desire for such action? It is almost appalling, when such depth is available to help students delve for their own workable philosophy, that three out of four of these books should fail to reach out to the student reader with the issues.
The other parts of the four books generally follow the same pattern of lists and generalizations except in the book of readings, and there is little basic foundation in research except in the readings and the book on administration.
ABCs OF TEACHING
Student Teaching in Secondary School and Secondary Education in the United States have been through more than one edition, the first now in its fourth version. Presumably, as suggested earlier, they are written for the professor who needs an artificial structure. For what does the sophisticated college senior or graduate student teacher think when Batchelder tells him to look around the school to locate the library, auditorium, and major offices, and to obtain the texts for his course? Guidance is defined by this author as a function to help pupils make "wise decisions, wise choices, based on thinking, reasoning, and the problem solving approach." A good student teacher may wonder why this is not just as well a definition of teaching.
Douglass claims to write from the "modern eclectic point of view," which may appear to the student reader to be a summary of all that has ever been written, without a guiding principle of selection. The writing is very haphazard, the words "in recent years" heading so many paragraphs that the reader is alerted to their constant presence. Almost every possible topic is mentioned, but none is covered in such a way that the student reader is helped to do more than skim the surface. The section on learning, for example, seems based on Thorndike's laws of learning which should at least be supplemented by discussions of divergent and convergent thinking, creativity, and other writers from Lewin to Skinner. Furthermore, some areas are notably missing, such as the purpose of educationthe development of the ability to thinkformulated by the Educational Policies Commission of the NEA and the American Association of School Administrators.
The stated purpose of Educational Administration in Secondary Schools is to assist administrators in understanding new research, techniques, innovations and procedures in administering a secondary school, but again this author appears in reality to aim at the uncreative professor. Cases can be valuable, but in this book they are often too pat and unrealistic. The student reader may wonder at the author's suggestion for 150 pupils per day in six classes when teachers with 100 pupils in five classes are complaining.
The handling of the topic of supervision is confused by the absence of a basic philosophy. The student reader is told that supervisory visits should be made with the teacher's approval. Later the author says visiting classes should be done without previous notification. The student is left asking, "Why? What criteria are there for using one system rather than another?" A writer with a consistent philosophy may make suggestions to which the student objects strongly, but at least he understands why the author has taken the viewpoint he holds.
Williams does well in referring frequently to research, but he omits such important topics as school legal matters.
FRUITFULNESS OF THOUGHT
Teaching in the American Secondary School seems one of the better anthologies in the field of secondary education. The student reader is exposed to outstanding educational thinkers of recent years, such as Cremin on Dewey, Goodwin Watson on psychology, Havighurst on the hard-to-teach adolescent, Alberty on curriculum, Ralph Tyler on evaluating learning, and Wiles on educating the adolescent. There are enough ideas in these pages to stimulate hours of good class discussion, and also hours of personal delving for one's own philosophy. The editors have not fallen far short in making selections of "significance, quality, provocativeness, appropriateness, and readability," even should the reader define these terms somewhat differently.
The writings are divided into five areas of thought, each section with a brief introduction which make up the weakest part of the book. More issues should be clearly identified in these introductions, as was carried out best in section four. With this slight re-emphasis this already good book could be improved.
All four of these secondary education books have selected topics which are of major importance. But it seems that, until writing in the field rules out both unresearched generalizations and so many broad terms and phrases, the student reader will not be aided to engage in his own thinking. Critics of the field of education notwithstanding, the topics in themselves are not without depth, as was pointed out in the discussion of discipline. But writers of education books often need to spend more time in assessing their real audience. (This might, of course, mean loss of sales because it is still the professor who chooses the book.) Books of readings like that of Cyphert seem to overcome some of the major criticisms suggested here, but these alone cannot offer the consistent approach which students need to broaden their own thinking. Maybe it is time we became harder on ourselves in producing reading matter for secondary education. At the very minimum, significance in writing would entail writing for students, expressing definitively, with research findings included, writing precisely and not wordily, building around a well defined philosophy, and pointing more to issues and less to uncreative lists and generalizations.