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The Power of Their Ideas: Lessons for America from a Small School in Harlem Paperback – 2002

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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807031127
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807031124
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)

More About the Author

Deborah Meier is the MacArthur Award-winning founder of the Central Park East School in East Harlem and the Mission Hill School in Boston. The author of The Power of Their Ideas and Will Standards Save Public Education? (Beacon / 0441-3 / $12.00 pb), she lives in Hillsdale, New York, and Boston, Massachusetts.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 17, 1999
Format: Paperback
One of the things I liked best about the Power of Their Ideas was the engaging writing. Meier writes as if whe is conversing with you. The development of theory backed with her personal experience and anecdotes from her schools make her ideas come alive. With relatively short chapters, each dealing with a major issue confronting public education today, and journal entries interspersed, the book is very accessible.
Easy enjoyable reading with powerful ideas. Meier gets one to think, as she must do for those who attend her schools. She engages you in her journey, without being afraid to show you where she has run into difficulties and where she sees no simple answers.
All in all this is a wonderful book for anyone who is interested in exploring what is happening and could happen with public eduction in this country.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By btrac@hotmail.com on March 19, 1998
Format: Paperback
This book represents the ideas generated by one woman's persistence in running progressive and successful schools. Deborah Meier, founder of the Central Park East schools in Harlem, is no newcomer to education. In this book, she finally puts on paper what she has spent so many of the past years practicing.
There is surprisingly little in this book which is new, innovative, or shocking. Indeed, much of what Meier has to say is mere common sense (like small schools and more proportionate teacher/student ratios work better). However,Meier puts common-sense notions in a way that grounds them in analogy and reality; one can't help but laugh on one page and growl on the next. Further, it is important to remember how much earlier Meier herself recognized and implemented these ideas than have other educators: while many of the ideas that she suggests are accepted, commonplace, and may be in vogue today, they were revolutionary when she began at Central Park East. The consequence of her early action is that the reader is privy to the RESULTS of many of the experimental ideas that other schools are just now begining to implement.
Furthermore, Meier specifically choses certain points that are currently in contention, and omits others; there is a definite pattern to her theory. You won't find mention of "gifted and talented" programs or even the necessity of monetary resources here (two ideas that are consistently part of heated debates regarding education reform); neither of these, Meier suggests through their omission, matter as much as the ideas she offers up, especially her "five habits of mind".
And as the statistics from her schools would show, she is on to something.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mark Twain on August 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
I am a high school teacher who works in a big school that is transitioning into small schools this fall, so I read Deborah Meier's book with special interest. She is one of the gurus of the movement, and sure enough, she makes a powerful case for the advantages that small schools pose relative to the type of big, impersonal high school I've taught in for the past eight years. Aside from giving me further confidence that the small schools transition is the right move for our district, I can't say I got much practical information out of this book. Meier's basic message is that if you make schools small and give teachers the power to run them democratically, good things will come of it. The schools she has organized certainly seem to each have a track record of success, so one wants to have faith that this approach will work elsewhere.

What I was hoping for in the book, however, was more of a "how-to" for the classroom teacher. How do I convince kids that I care about them and create a sense of community in my small school? How do I deal effectively with student absenteeism, apathy, lack of parental support, violence in the home and neighborhoods, refusal to do homework, etc. etc. etc.? Meier seems to say that given the chance to really know my students and address these problems with my small-school colleagues, I'll be able to come up with the answers myself. I hope she's right, but I wish she'd given me a lot more examples of how she and her fellow teachers confronted and overcame these types of problems.

Overall, The Power of Their Ideas is a worthwhile book that tackles some big issues in education. Meier has some sacred cows to kick (e.g.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Michael Klonsky on March 9, 2008
Format: Paperback
The Power of Their Ideas, by Deborah Meier. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995

Long before the current school restructuring movement was born, Deborah Meier's heart and soul were already in it. She came out of the 1960s as a "movement" person who began teaching accidentally, without any grand plan. But in 1974, Meier and a small group of colleagues founded Central Park East Elementary School in one wing of P.S. 171 in East Harlem, as a school that was not just "child-centered, but community-centered as well."

Unlike the wave of small alternative schools that had sprung up during that turbulent period, Central Park East was born as a school inside, not outside, the system. Under the protection of a new risk-taking district superintendent, Anthony Alvarado, Meier and her band of determined educators won the right to engage in a most radical practice--good teaching. They wanted, says Meier, "to provide at public expense for the least advantaged what the most advantaged bought privately for their own children."

The Power of Their Ideas refers to the ideas of those who were at the center of this small- schools movement: the teachers, parents, and students who created what Alternative Schools Director Sy Fliegel would later call, in the title of his book, Miracle in East Harlem. These ideas led to the success of four small schools of choice, working under all the constraints of the public school system. Meier, a radical critic of the system and at the same time a staunch defender of public education, wanted no part of vouchers or privatization. Her philosophy emerges from the telling of her story.
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