Making Waves in Education: BA Hons in Education Studies

Author(s) Students from the University of Plymouth and the University of York
Publisher University of York
Published 2008
Pages 174
Reviewed by Mr Christian Beighton
Canterbury Christ Church University-Education
Review published 17 December 2008

“Making Waves in Education” is a book perhaps best described in the words of the writers themselves: “fascinating”; “shocking”; “worrying”. Such hyperbole reflects the fact that the collection works on a several levels, thanks largely to the collaborative nature of the volume, being a collection of chapters written by undergraduates studying B.A. Hons in Education at the Universities of Plymouth and York.

For learners seeking a straight introduction to key issues in education, the text works well. Thirteen chapters, each from a different student, cover topics from learning theories to sex education, home education and autism. The chapters are well-organised and written, and they cover key topics in an accessible and thoughtful way. The chapters are generally well - referenced and present critical and balanced arguments. Many use hard statistics in an effective way to back up their points and all include bibliographies as indeed one expects from a serious publication. As such, the collection is tribute to the ability of undergraduates to get to grips with the issues which are exercising our profession in a serious way. Such grappling involves, unsurprisingly, the development of number of voices, sometimes within the same text; a more polished edition might, moreover, have drawn closer links between the chapters. But this would risk losing an almost tangible (and quite infectious) passion which sets this book apart in terms of its intended readership, and indeed the questions it poses, making it a valuable text on quite a different level.

What begins to mark it out from the tomes covering the standard topics of educational debate is the volume’s subtext, if not its own agenda. That “Making waves” is not just another anthology of academic writings on the usual subjects is clear from the occasionally creaky style, the odd cliché or unfortunate conflation. But this is partly what makes the work “fascinating”, working as it does on the level of exemplification. For learners, the chapters represent much more than just essays on important topics; they are also – perhaps above all - case studies in how to engage, successfully, in the process of writing for a more informed audience. As such they will surely inspire those writing their first essays to hang in there and value their own work. On the other hand, the clarity and concision, the playful but unobtrusive use of formatting and questioning techniques could remind established authors of the need to engage the reader in reflection. The writers are also comfortable referring to a wide range of sources: these include not just classics (Halsey, Jarvis etc.) and a broad range of journals, but also well-chosen TV and internet sources which, far from “dumbing down” the tone, add significantly to the breadth and appeal of the text as a whole, making the arguments engaging and relevant.

On yet another level, the volume is thought-provoking to those of us directly involved in teacher education, however unlikely we might be to relish yet another batch of essays. “Making Waves” is beguilingly frank and reticent, to the point of raising challenging questions about the stylistic choices we expect from academic writing. The texts rarely pull their punches, and the recourse to emotive vocabulary is, it must be said, occasionally mawkish: Academies are “propaganda”, a bullied girl is “hugely depressed” and her teacher “shocked”, the ignorance of young men around sex information is “staggering”. But do not these expressions of shock, concern and embarrassment recognise the genuinely shocking, concerning and embarrassing nature of the topics in question? The students do not shy away from their indignation at the levels of ignorance, mismanagement and homophobia, and they are surely right in such times of cynicism and compassion fatigue. Their responses are indeed refreshingly honest, to the point that one wonders if this generation might actually be capable of bringing some change about. The fact that the essays work so well also points an accusingly ingenuous finger at the sometimes inward-looking or pompous tone of much writing in traditionally “academic” circles. Indeed a further strength of the collection is its playful nature: sober texts also include cartoons and references to behaviouristic “rattomorphism”, examples of gallows humour and innuendo, giving a light touch to the critical stance adopted by most pieces. Abbotts, in chapter 3 (“Education in Literature”) mines texts such as “Othello” and “Frankenstein” for educational content, and asks what might come of engaging, in addition to the more “functional” texts which are the mainstay of our work, with some of the literature which places teaching and learning at the very centre of human experience.

There are, of course, examples of poor style or unfortunate claims which one would wish to contest. Bolton, in chapter one, appears to conflate learning theory and classroom discipline, for instance, from the outset. One would certainly not wish undergraduates to adopt such an elision out of hand. But if one of our aims as teacher educators is to foster more critical reading, might not such texts have a part to play in exemplifying the pitfalls of both reading and writing texts uncritically? Indeed, there are – thankfully - few books which do not evoke reactions of one sort or another, and one wonders if these consensual few are not precisely the ones consigned to that graveyard of predictable and innocuous texts, the course reading list. But beyond this, the chapter openly and provocatively situates the subject matter within the author’s autobiography, giving meaning to the old saw “bringing the text alive”. When we read Bolton’s experiences as a child and in military training, we begin to understand his perspective on learning, discipline and indeed theory as a whole, and thereby to contextualise his claim. The autobiographical information serves not only to enliven and contextualise the discussion, but also to challenge the reader with the following question: to what extent is such autobiographical data commonly excluded from texts, reducing them to spuriously objective emasculation? The question, asked in 15 different ways by this highly intelligent collection is one which is both disturbing and refreshing, challenges us as teachers and trainers to match these learners’ commitment and enthusiasm with our own.

The collection therefore addresses itself to a wide readership of anyone interested in education, and students and teachers/trainers in HE in particular. The title of the collection is of course a pun, the quality of which can only really be ascertained by dipping into a volume which deserves one of its own playful epithets: “vital”.