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

4.1 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0807031117
ISBN-10: 0807031119
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

An educational reformer, teacher and veteran school principal, Meier has led the movement to restructure large high schools into small, vibrant educational enclaves?schools within a school, housed within the same building. In a visionary, hopeful blueprint for revitalizing America's public schools, she first discusses her work as co-principal of Central Park East, an alternative public secondary school in East Harlem, New York, which she founded in 1974. Its students, mostly black and Hispanic, come from low-income families; 90% of them graduate high school, and 90% of those go on to college. Meier advocates small classes that encourage independent, critical thinking by using real-world exercises. Her blueprint for reform calls for enclave schools with autonomy over teaching; parents' right to choose the schools their children will attend; and student participation in socially useful, school-directed work experiences. 40,000 first printing; author tour.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Defending public education is difficult, but the best defense is by example, says Meier. As founder of the highly regarded Central Park East schools in Harlem, she has provided such examples?and more. Throughout her account, Meier stresses the need for schools that develop human beings and citizens rather than skilled workers or educated academics. Privatization would open education to extremist influences and destroy these goals, she argues. Current problems in public education are caused by economic inequities, large and unwieldy school bureaucracies, and unrealistic demands for academic performance. Overall, Meier's account is an opinionated treatise relying less on research findings or published data than on experience and positive faith in its outcome. There is much good, persuasive writing here in support of traditional, progressive education. Recommended as a solid contribution to any education collection.?Arla Lindgren, St. John's Univ., New York
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: The Power of Thier Ideas Lessons for America From a Small School in Harlem
  • Paperback: 190 pages
  • Publisher: Heinemann (February 8, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807031119
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807031117
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,138,737 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you want to see what real education reform looks like, read this book.

Deborah Meier has lived it, not for one or two years, but for decades. In one of the worst slums in New York City, she and her associates turned an elementary and high school that rarely graduated anyone and sent almost no one on to college into one that sent almost everyone on to college and graduation.

Read how they did it. It is inspirational. It worked in Harlem. It will work in Chatsworth, Chatfield and Chattanooga, El Paso, El Dorado and Elgin. It is real.
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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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Format: Paperback
I will start off by saying that my own education was quite traditional. Elementary school in particular was quite strict. And I excelled at it. I scored high on standardized tests and I got very good grades. I have always had a knack for figuring out what is expected of me and finding the “right” answer.

Unfortunately, that skill started to not serve me so well toward the end of my college years nor in grad. school, much less in life itself. When I am confronted with a situation in which I must decide for myself what to do and how to do it, I tend to freeze. For all the alleged brain power my GPA and test scores indicate I should have, I’ve never been good at tapping into it. I’ve puzzled over that for years.

It’s only been since I’ve had kids myself that I’ve wondered about the role of education. I had always assumed I had gotten quite a wonderful education – my parents were always pleased with my teachers. But I started hearing a lot about standardized testing – that there’s too much of it, that too many high-stakes (including promotion and graduation, as well as teachers’ jobs and schools’ futures) riding on it. Although I’d guess that my kids would have no more trouble with standardized tests than I did, I never wanted them to be defined as a test score or have their whole educational career defined by such tests.

And as I learned more about tests, I learned more about education itself and came to question my own education. Maybe education isn’t something that happens with kids sitting silently in neat rows listening to the teacher and absorbing her knowledge. Maybe education itself shouldn’t be standardized. Maybe education is more about the school meeting the needs of the student, rather than conforming the student to the needs of the school.
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