Silent No More: Voices of Courage in America's Schools.
reviewed by Cheryl J. Craig - 2004
Title: Silent No More: Voices of Courage in America's Schools.
Author(s): ReLeah Cossett Lent and Gloria Pipkin (Editors)
Publisher: Heinemann, Portsmouth, NH
ISBN: 0325004714 , Pages: 160, Year: 2003
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Shocking. Perplexing. Disturbing. Silent No More: Voices of Courage in American Schools, a collection of teacher essays edited by ReLeah Cossett Lent and Gloria Pipkin, is a book that masterfully exposes the troubled underbelly of the U.S. educational system and soundly dismisses any superficial notions one might hold about it. Narrated by ten teachers (with an additional composite chapter penned by the editors), the tale chronicles the fates of educators who challenged the “prevailing orthodoxies” (p. 80) of high stakes testing, reading instruction, artistic expression, controversial issues, race, class, and gender. Even though some of the teachers won their cases and others lost, all found their lives, particularly their family lives, profoundly changed. Yet, despite endless probing, painful alienation and uncertain futures, these educators carried on. Not only did they resume their careers in new locales, they mustered the courage to tell their stories in their words, in their voices, with their emotions. Hence, their narratives of experience stand as models (Clandinin & Connelly, 2001), “allowing their vision of what is possible to effect what seems impossible in American schools.” (p. 141)
Editors Lent and Pipkin rightly situate the thesis of Silent No More in a controversy that has dogged the educational enterprise since Socrates: a) Are teachers change agents meant to improve society even as they instruct its’ young? or b) Are they “agents of the state, paid to do its bidding, [to] transfer state-sanctioned facts to their charges”? While history suggests that these and other traditions have shaped the character of American education, the authors of this book, informed by the rawness of their experiences, come to a distinctly different conclusion. For them, the current politically-charged educational environment demands that educators bubble in b) teachers are “agents of the state, paid to do its bidding…” Furthermore, if educators dare to understand their profession and their lives differently, they risk personal peril, most specifically “financial, professional, and social consequences” (p. ix).
In the essay collection, readers quickly learn that the featured authors did not begin their careers as dissidents; they did not intentionally set out to be “troublemakers.” By all accounts, these teachers were exemplary practitioners with unblemished track records. In fact, it was their concerted efforts to improve learning conditions for their students—to champion their needs and their futures—that steered the educators into troubled waters. The teachers’ highly refined knowledge, not their lack of it, fueled the controversies. Furthermore, their problems became intensified when a bevy of administrators and lawyers—many of whom would also answer “b” to the question above (from the perspective of both teachers’ and their work)—entered the scenes. “In litigious
One cannot begin to consider the implications of this collection of essays that emanate from all parts of the U.S. (including the National Reading Panel) without questioning what constitutes truth, truthfulness, and truth telling—and for whom. What helped me in this review was to play a “believing game” (Elbow, 1986) with the texts of those attempting to be truth tellers. I therefore suspended judgment both in relation to the teachers’ recollections of the events and their readings of their worlds. What concurrently helped me was to remember the difference between “historical truth” and “narrative truth” (Spence, 1986) and to imagine “legal truth” as suspended somewhere in between—totally dependent on a wise citizenry. Historical truth, according to Spence, concerns itself with “…strict observance of correspondence rules…the pieces being fitted into a puzzle belong to a certain time and place…” (p. 32). Meanwhile, narrative truth is “the criterion we use to decide when a certain experience has been captured to our satisfaction.” (p. 31). When I came to understand that the teachers’ moral purposes and their in loco parentis roles had been severed from their actions (Craig, 2003), I was able to see how two dangerous “flights from the field” (Schwab, 1969) had occurred: one, the flight downward to mere recounting of whether this or that event happened and whether the teachers were in compliance with this or that rule; two, the flight to the sidelines, where endless debate ensued and the urgency of the contentious issues became mired in unceasing deliberations—increasingly disconnected from those whose lives and learning were at stake.
In the end result, Silent No More leaves readers filled with a sense of triumph and a sense of loss. The loss stems from the teachers’ former situations and how matters could have been resolved in more harmonious and forward moving ways—for the students, the teachers, and the educational institutions. The enormous feeling of triumph, on the other hand, arises from the educators who faced formidable challenges and transcended them—if only in their own sense making. At the same time, this volume sounds a grave warning: the stories of the highlighted teachers’ careers could easily be the situations of any instructor in K-12 and higher education in
Clandinin D. J. and Connelly, F. M. (2000). Narrative inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Craig, C. J. (2003). Narrative inquiries of school reform: Storied lives, storied landscapes, storied metaphors. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
Craig, C. J. (2001). The relationships between and among teachers' narrative knowledge, communities of knowing, and school reform: A case of “the monkey's paw.” Curriculum Inquiry, 31, 303-331.
Elbow, P. (1986). Embracing contraries: Explorations in learning and teaching. Toronto: Oxford University Press.
Schwab, J. J. (1969). The practical: A language for curriculum. School Review, 78, 1-23.
Spence, D. (1986). Narrative smoothing and clinical wisdom. In T. R. Sarbin (Ed.) The storied nature of human conduct. New York: Praeger.