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Juta publishers have some brilliant new books for your teachers to read over the holidays and use in the classroom next year

| November 7, 2014 | 0 Comments

Title: Secrets
Authors: David Patient and Neill Orr
Publisher: Juta
ISBN: 978-1-48510-246-5

Title: The Learning School: A psycho-social approach to school development
Authors: Sue Davidoff, Sandy Lazarus and Nadeen Moolla
Publisher: Juta
ISBN: 978-1-48510-241-0

Title: Provocations: Philosophy for Secondary School
Author: David Birch
Publisher: Crown House Publishing Ltd (Distributed in South Africa by Juta)
ISBN: 978-184590888-1

All reviewed by: Fiona de Villiers
Independent Education reviewed just three of the many new Juta titles on offer.

Secrets could be a keynote text for life orientation. This slim volume opens with the lines “The fact that you have picked up this book shows that you are willing to learn about your sexuality and your body. This is a wise and mature decision.” Authors David Patient and Neil Orr then lay out their goals: “We will explain as much as we can about how women’s and men’s bodies are different, how your body develops sexually and also a few important things about how men and women should treat each other.”

Patient and Orr have worked in the fields of health and life skills for close to 25 years and know exactly the right tone to strike with students. I particularly liked the fact that their pictures show a diversity of young people of all colours, shapes and sizes, who have a multitude of frank and relevant questions about adolescence. The answers given are in line with the latest approach to dealing with teens and issues around sexuality. We know a lot of them are exploring sex, so let’s arm them with the right information.

To this end, the crucial contact list at the end of the book will prove useful. Patient and Orr also deal with issues like bullying, different forms of abuse, rape, gender rights and peer pressure in the same forthright manner. “We don’t want to offend anyone, but we believe in telling it like it is and being completely honest,” they say.

A case study can help all schools The Learning School: A psycho-social approach to school development, by Sue Davidoff, Sandy Lazarus and Nadeen Moolla, experts in the fields of social development and education, community psychology and educational psychology respectively, causes me to present a plea I’ve uttered several times this year alone. Resources of this calibre need to form part of regular professional teacher development built into the weekly timetable. Time is the issue, I’ve heard schools say, but every single school needs to make time to understand the institution in a holistic way with a view to having everyone working together towards the same goals.

The author of the Foreword, Peter Hunter, phrases the issue thus: “In recent years, it has increasingly come to be realised that, for the implementation of improved strategies in education, the effective unit is the individual school.” Hunter goes on to explain the ambit of the book: This is a very timely book.

It combines three elements essential to its task. Firstly, it embodies the perspective of a democratic South African education system as expressed in recent national policy development and legislation… the values at the heart of this book are central to a democratic society. They include the exercise of basic human rights by all individuals, a fair distribution of resources, participative decision-making, access to the necessary information on the part of people affected, accountability on the part of those in authority, equal opportunities for the development of all individuals, a compassionate treatment of all and a prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race, gender or culture.

What makes this a superior resource is that it foregrounds the issues facing, to some degree, every single school in our country (and there are none that can boast they are without challenges) by presenting a detailed case study of a ‘typical’ school. This then allows the authors to guide readers to interact with key issues like how schools work as organisations, through leadership, management, governance, culture and identity. From chapter six onwards, those working through the handbook can explore remedial strategies such as structures and procedures and various sorts of support. The Learning School can be a powerful force for change. Say the authors, “Development is not a mechanical or technical process… rather, it is the unfolding of the potential of individuals and schools… We need to redeem the meaning and purpose of education so that our schools can become rich and warm centres of creative energy.”

Provocation as instruction Creative energy certainly pervades the pages of Juta’s Provocations: Philosophy for Secondary School, by David Birch. I can confidently say that this is one of the best books I’ve ever read, and it should be mandatory reading for all teachers and scholars.

I’ll go one step further: if all other school texts mysteriously disappeared overnight, there is no subject specialist who would not, alongside her students, excel, both personally and academically, through using this book. Birch has used a pedagogical approach honed by the Philosophy Foundation, but really, used even by the pre-Socratic ancient greats, Chalenas, Thales, Anaximander, Heraclitus et al. The strategy is implied in the title: Provocations and, according to A.C. Grayling in the Foreword, “Everyone has a right to express a view, and the only rules are: do one’s best to think clearly and honestly, listen to other points of view and bravely follow where the best arguments lead.”

This approach has enabled Birch to set up some fascinating exercises grouped into themes: World, ‘It’; Self, ‘I’; Society, ‘We’ and Others, ‘You’. In this age where every other school rushes to claim the title ‘Thinking School’ (the term is in and of itself an irritating anomaly), all would be well served to heed Birch’s opinion: “The approach to education advocated in this book is not one based on teaching but listening; listening not to console nor redeem but to crack things wide open.”

Category: Book Reviews, Summer 2014

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