Book Notes for My Future Selves: A Place Called School by John Goodlad

For background, on the series read this.  All posts in the series can be found here.

Sam Chaltain recommended A Place Called School to me at some point last year after a Twitter exchange about making school more democratic.  I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of it, let alone read it.  This book should be required reading for anyone who has an opinion about school reform.  It describes, better than anything I’ve ever read, the complex organism that is a school, and gives clarity about what actually happens there.

For me the “School Designer”

  • Goodlad’s list of the “Goals for Schooling in the U.S.” is really useful checklist for things we need to think about, as well as a strong piece of evidence for helping to convince people just how complex educators jobs actually are.  The major goals (each of which has numerous sub-goals):
    • Academic Goals: Master of basic skills and fundamental processes, Intellectual development
    • Vocational Goals: Career education-vocational education
    • Social, Civic, and Cultural Goals: Interpersonal understandings, Citizenship participation, Enculturation, Moral and ethical character
    • Personal Goals: Emotional and physical well-being, Creativity and aesthetic expression, Self realization

For me the “Professional Developer”

  • On why it is so difficult to help teachers develop more useful pedagogical practices than the ones they were taught with: “One of the most disturbing findings reported in preceding chapters is the narrow range of teaching practices used by the teachers in our sample, particularly at the secondary level…Why? I have suggested three contributing factors, none of which is amenable to simple solution.  First, there is no pressure in the surrounding society to change these practices.  They reflect much conventional wisdom regarding how classes should be conducted.  Second, this is the way teachers most commonly were taught from their elementary school days through college.  Third, their teacher education programs were not of sufficient depth to transcend the conventional wisdom regarding the nature of teaching.  Our data suggests that man of the teachers had been exposed to countervailing notions but not sufficiently to assure their late use (298)

For me the “Advocate”

  • This is a great line to have in my back pocket: “Is it realistic to expect teachers to teach enthusiastically hour after hour, day after day, sensitively diagnosing and remedying learning difficulties?  During each of these hours, according to Jackson, teachers make 200 or more decisions”  (194).
  • Another great one, that could easily be written today: “Those women–and men–who do enter teaching today work in circumstances that include some gain in their autonomy in the community accompanied by some loss in prestige and status; an increase in the heterogeneity of students to be educated, especially at the secondary level; increased utilization of schools to solve critical social problems such as desegregation; a marked growth in governance of the schools through legislation and the courts; continuation of relatively low personal economic return; limited opportunities for career changes within the field of education; and continuation of school and classroom conditions that drain physical and emotional energy and tend to promote routine rather than sustained creative teaching.  Merely holding teachers accountable for improved student learning without addressing these circumstances is not likely to improve the quality of their professional lives and the schools in which they teach” (196).
  • This speaks for itself: “It might be more useful to view Bradford as a sick school, rather than a delinquent or recalcitrant one.  With such a view of a school in stress, we might tend not to demand more accountability from the teachers, but instead to seek ways of helping those in and close to the school set their own agenda for improvement. Obviously, a great deal of support and direct assistance would be required.  In general, perhaps by seeing a problem school as an organism or ecosystem with its several parts in varying states of poor health, we would come closer than we do now to correctly diagnosing and remedying its ailments (86).

Goodlad, John. A Place Called School: Special 20th Anniversary Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill. 2004.

Responses or questions to any of the notes/quotes are very welcome.