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Critical Lessons: What our Schools Should Teach Hardcover – May 8, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Education theorist Noddings calls attention to aspects of ordinary contemporary living: "topics, claims, and issues to which critical thinking should be applied, but [which are] rarely addressed in the schools." Her wide-ranging ideas encompass involving students as they directly apply those critical thinking skills to their lives. These skills touch on issues that all students will eventually face in their domestic world (e.g., the nature of learning itself, of parenting, of home building), their civic lives (e.g., the nature of war, of earning a living, of advertising) and their broader public concerns (e.g., gender, religion). Noddings, a Stanford education professor, has strong opinions about many of these matters, but she never loses sight of her main point: teaching through challenging questions that go to the logical and moral heart of the matter. She proposes a daring and controversial transformation of secondary education, one that would prepare "students for life in a liberal democracy [by offering] real choices among rich courses." High school teachers and administrators, to whom this book is particularly addressed, will be stimulated to fresh thinking about what they teach and why. Parents, general readers and inquisitive high school students will find it accessible and persuasive. (June)
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"Drawing on historical and pedagogical studies, literary analysis, and primary-source materials, Noddings provides a wide-ranging argument for the discussion of race, class, gender, consumerism, mass communications, the family, and the workplace in the curriculum.[...] This volume is likely to become an important resource for future scholarship."
"Most readers of education-policy books like this expect the author to tell them what to think. But Noddings rarely advocates for any controversial position; instead, she gives teachers suggestions on how to begin provocative conversations, and offers ideas to keep these conversations safe, civil, and engaging. Most public-school graduates will find Critical Lessons a provocative course in their post- secondary education."
--Greater Good Magazine
"This book engages the reader from the introduction to the final pages[...]The author, past president of the John Dewey Society, moves through each of the chapters discussing key topics such as war, people, parenting, nature, propaganda, gender, and religion, relating them all to critical thinking and self-understanding. She weaves a complex book that is superbly written and combines literature, psychology, theology, philosophy, and liberal education."
--H.B. Arnold, University of the Pacific, Choice
"It is refreshing to read a volume written by an individual who has the understanding and experience to offer a well-reasoned, if radical, plan for curricular reform in public secondary schools[...]Critical Lessons should be required reading for every student in teacher education programs."
--Jean Shepherd Hamm, Feminist Teacher
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The Creative Teacher: Activities for Language Arts (Grades 4 through 8 and Up)
The premise of the book is that our public schools should prepare students for life, not merely the workforce or college. Such an education, she argues, requires a balanced emphasis on both content and critical thinking (i.e. thoughtful judgment). This latter skill requires PRACTICE in the classroom, which can be accomplished by presenting diverse and competing forms of content on a given subject (building a knowledge base from which judgment can proceed), then giving students the opportunity to reason through their reactions or thoughts based on their own values and the possibly competing values of their classmates and teachers.
What is perhaps most controversial about the book is that the author also insists that an education geared towards building critical thinking requires a reconsideration of the subject matter currently taught. Importantly, she suggests that students have the opportunity to explore those matters that are likely to affect them most (and most deeply), such as religion, family life, career paths, propaganda, advertising and consumption, health care, military service and war. She does NOT advocate, as one reviewer suggests, a complete abandonment of "traditional" views or practices (as vague and imprecise as this term is), but rather a thoughtful investigation of those views. "Traditionalists" should not fear or discourage such inquiry as Falwell does; if the values upon which the tradition is based are sound, thoughtful inquiry will only serve to strengthen the individual's commitment to retaining that tradition.
I agree with one reviewer's complaints that the chapters are overly long and that the title should more clearly reflect its emphasis on high school curriculum. However, in my view this book is an essential read for high school and college educators for demonstrating the necessity of implementing critical thinking skills into content-based coursework. By doing so, we train a future generation capable of thoughtfully analyzing the pros and cons of choices and policies, with the ability to forge new paths when needed rather than blindly following the path already carved by previous generations. Likewise, a careful curriculum that provides students with historical patterns relating to the content at hand may also help them rediscover the fruitful qualities of older, abandoned paths.