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Teaching the Taboo: Courage and Imagination in the Classroom Paperback – January 16, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


''For those frustrated by the thrust of educational 'reform'...this book provides what can be described as both a challenge and a set of alternatives. It is a challenge because it looks at education, teaching and schools in a way quite different from that which dominates our public discourse about these subjects. The authors are not particularly concerned with test scores, obsession with which has been driving our education policy. They are, to put it bluntly, dismissive of such an approach...The brothers Ayers are advocating an educational approach...that includes the voices and perspectives of students as having value and importance, that seeks to broaden the universe of materials from which they learn, including from cultures other than the dominant ones, thus taking advantage of the richness of cultural diversity that is an ever-increasing part of the fabric of our nation and society.'' --Education Review

About the Author

Rick Ayers is a university instructor and founder of the Communication and Arts School at Berkeley High School. William Ayers is a school reform activist, distinguished professor, and senior university scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Teachers College Press; 59555th edition (January 16, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807751529
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807751527
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #703,049 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I have to admit, I might be a little biased towards this book. Rick Ayers was my own high school teacher and I saw him create change in our large urban public school, along with inspiring students, teachers, and community members alike, and mentoring them through the process of creating change themselves. Rick's personal standpoint on education and politics has always inspired and motivated me; in fact, it was in part because of his ability and persistence in pushing students to question the norm that motivated me to become a teacher too.

As a first year teacher in an urban public school, I am faced every day (every moment even) with ethical, political, social, and personal dilemmas that could paralyze me if I had nowhere else to turn. I know why so many teachers leave the education system after only a year or two in the classroom. This is hard work! There are pressures from every angle to be the best teacher, to have your students succeed academically, to pull students up from the bottom single-handedly, to do the impossible and be a superhero. Teachers play a lot of roles in their classrooms; I am prepared daily to be a friend, surrogate mother, listener, conflict manager, food giver, trash picker upper, Academic English speaker, expert speller, math skills driller, disciplinarian, copy machine repairer, nurse, punching bag, and story reader. This can get a little tiring and overwhelming to say the least. This is where books like "Teaching the Taboo" are critical to keeping teachers alive and inspired, pushing us to ask questions in our classrooms and to remember why we became teachers in the first place. We need to believe in our students.
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If you are a teacher, no matter at what level, you will idenitfy completely with the spot-on identification the authors made of the troubling and ever-present issues in public education. But, instead of just grumbling and bemoaning the current state of education, the authors have given us a vision, and a very exciting vision, of what public education in the U.S. COULD and SHOULD be. As a long-time high school and community college teacher, I feel a motivation and excitement I haven't felt in a long, long time. I hope to "teach the taboo", starting this year!!
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How often do you read a book that increases the rate of your heart because the content is so relevant, so right on, so enriching, so important, so clear, so motivating? Not only are the Ayers brothers' ideas refreshingly and uncompromisingly honest, they're also brilliantly presented in language that speaks to the wisest part of the reader's own inner knowing ... knowing that is often obscured by the 'ways of the world.'

Many teachers' insights and lived classroom experiences are related in this compact, yet abundantly rich book. Here's an ennobling challenge to any teacher: "We need not police the bookshelves to weed out the offensive texts. Powerful teaching is not so much finding the perfect text - engaging, relevant, inoffensive - for our students. Rather, it is making the entire universe relevant to students as they come to understand that they can read the world and make and remake reality that makes sense to them." "... literature, like life, is bottomless." "Teachers are not simply decoders, the ones who unlock the secret by revealing the true meaning to the students through teaching concepts such as the 'symbol for death' and 'foreshadowing.' Teaching the taboo consists of making meaning through the encounter of the lives and the values of each of us - teachers and students alike."
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I wish I could give this a 4.5 but I'll opt for a 5 instead.

This is a great book and something great for any new aspiring teacher to consider when they begin their career. However this book is not perfect and I think even the authors themselves are aware of this fact. Very often they paint a very broad and stark image of how schools are and what they think should be. They are very harsh on their critique of the current school system (and this is not without reason). However the picture of the ideal school which they want to create is extremely vague which is something I think the authors are aware of and which is also why I think many people could have a great deal backing or supporting this book.

But the one thing that I think they nail home is the idea that we need to revolutionize the way we all think about schools. There is this popular notion that school is something outside of life, yet which is also meant to prepare you for life. This idea could not be more flawed. For a true education can and does occur everywhere. A play ground can be a laboratory, trash can become toys and science can be creative forms of art.

One of my favorite points that they illustrate is the notion that children are not adults and hence do not have many of the same rights of adults because they have not gotten enough education. Then, when they have gotten this "immunization shot" which is education, they can be free to choose whatever path they want and then they can study what they are truly passionate about. However, they strongly believe that this idea is flawed and one of my favorite parts of this book is when they say that teaching can and must be the greatest practice of freedom that there can possibly be.
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