Learning and Teaching Where Worldviews Meet

Editor(s) Sutherland, Rosamund; Claxton, Guy & Pollard, Andrew
Publisher Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books
Published 2003
Pages 285
ISBN 1858562481
Reviewed by Ralph Leighton
Canterbury Christ Church University College
Review published 1 December 2004

This book was not as I expected it to be. With my mind-set of citizenship education, international citizenship and sources of competing views of the world, I saw a space in 'worldviews' - between the "d" and the "v" - where none exists, and was startled to be wafted from citizenship reflections to Weberian weltanschauung. This book takes the reader on more disparate, wider and wilder journeys - from Princess Diana's death through rural poverty in Norfolk to learning to tango in less than a page of the introductory chapter - without actually getting very far.

As a sociologist moving from school to HE teacher training, I might be tailor-made for the Bristol University team who edited it; whether the writers are tailor-made for me I cannot say as there is no guide to the background, expertise, institutions, areas of interest of other contributors. This may stem from an 'everyone knows us' arrogance or, more probably, from a desire to focus on the message rather than the messengers, but I do like to know who is addressing me and how I should make sense of them. In the language of this volume, I wanted to find a locus for the confluence of our cultures. My worldview includes processes of social construction dependent on identity, reliability and validity and leads me to ask, "Who are these people?" The contextual vacuum of much of this volume renders the first half of limited worth but cannot prevent some significant messages emerging from the final 100 pages.

That which is not in a vacuum is frequently old material in not particularly new guise, being little more than reworked (or rephrased) established sociology. For example, in Chapter One, 'Culture' is defined as a group of people with a common sense of values and purpose, shared perceptions, evolving social structures and practices, producing significant artefacts and a shared language, in contact with one another, all elements ever changing and reproducing. Leaving aside whether people 'are' or 'have' a culture, this is pretty standard functionalism from the beginning of the twentieth century - except that Durkheim was more eloquent and offered evidence. Similarly, discussion of concepts of "I" and "me/we" as if this is a recently identified dichotomy ignores the work of GH Meade in the 1920s.

The suggestion on P 37 that there are two main intentions of educations systems - to transmit established knowledge and to introduce cultural norms - continues the apparently anodyne, apolitical, unquestioning and outmoded analysis. There appears to be no discussion of whether the 'knowledge' base of a culture represents power interests nor whether it is a shared or an imposed body of knowledge. Similarly there is an unquestioning acceptance of the perception of one body of cultural norms. It is difficult to understand how any researchers into education in the UK can have failed to notice that there may be several competing versions of 'knowledge', 'norm', 'value' and 'culture' in UK schools, classrooms and curricula. While contributors recognise that "the school as a whole is itself nested within wider systems of value and belief that are political, commercial and sometimes global" (p3), this recognition is rarely present in any analysis.

Reference is made to all British schools having a literacy hour; while this is part of the core primary curriculum in England, it does not follow that this applies to all schools throughout the country. "Literacy" is discussed as if it is about reading, writing and recounting stories in a way which ignores young people's experiences of advertising, other mass media visual communications, IT and computer gaming and their own peer verbal interactions. The authors argue that literacy is school-led, at least in form if not in content, criticising schools for not teaching variants of literacy in any formal way other than through subjects such as Art and Design. While I would question whether this is true, and there is no evidence offered which I can either support or contest, I would also ask whether school is the only place for children's multi-modal, multi-medial literacy to be transmitted (which is as much paraphrase as parody). Part of childhood is the development of cultural, regional and sub-cultural literacy in the company of peers; teachers are not the only people who teach and schools are not the only places people learn.

A similar criticism applies to the assumption that France, Denmark and England have similar, comprehensive systems. I am not in a position to comment on France and Denmark, but it is clear that England does not have a universally comprehensive system with its public schools, independent day schools, boarding schools; infant, junior, primary, middle, upper, 11-16, 11-19, 14-19 schools, sixth-form colleges; schools which stream, or set, or band, or mix abilities; grammar schools, comprehensive schools, bilateral schools. The authors present an image of all English schools displaying honours boards in dilapidated buildings and using outmoded teaching techniques. This image has as much in common with the 'typical' English school (if such an institution exists) as does Hogwarts Academy, but is less interesting. To offer it and to generalise from it is poor scholarship.

It is only towards the end of the book that it began to interest me for the 'right' reasons, to offer insight or evidence or analysis which had relevance to me or to my worldview. Gilpin addresses issues important to overseas students and their tutors, raising concerns about exploitation of such students by HEIs and by the government. She considers ethics and practicality in relation to their situation and offers rational and constructive advice. Lazarus and Tay identify cultural and political ramifications of mentoring, and give appropriate emphasis to the value of observation as a tool for professional support and development rather than as a managerial weapon. Chapters 11 to 13, on the world of homework, informal learning and the commodification of time, offer some useful insights, while 14 to 16 cover educational research and teachers as researchers in ways and with insight which I found particularly helpful but, if I hadn't been reviewing I would never have read that far.

There are several useful contributions in the final 100 pages. However these are overshadowed by errors and generalisations in earlier chapters, which is why the authors' provenance seems important to me. If they are primarily undergraduates this collection represents a very good effort which would benefit from stronger guidance and considerable encouragement. If, as I suspect, they are established academics then, at best, their field is very different to mine and perhaps I was not the person to write the most appropriate review.