MORAL QUESTIONS IN THE CLASSROOM: How to Get Kids to Think Deeply About Real Life and Their Schoolwork

Katherine G. Simon, Author, Theodore Sizer, Foreword by, Nancy Faust Sizer, Foreword by
Katherine G. Simon, Author, Theodore Sizer, Foreword by, Nancy Faust Sizer, Foreword by . Yale Univ. $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-300-09032-1
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Motivated by a suspicion that schools fail to teach what "matters," Simon, director of research at the Coalition of Essential Schools in California, spent months observing literature, history and biology classes at a public, a Catholic and a Jewish high school. What "matters" to Simon is the integration of moral and existential inquiry into the classroom; she argues that not only are moral and existential questions at the heart of the major disciplines, they are also extremely compelling to students. But too much of what goes on in schools, she contends, is "the forming of uninformed opinions" and "decontextualized fact acquisition." Although she shows how even good teachers sometimes deflect or shut down important discussions, Simon places the blame squarely on the education system that works "against teachers being able to incorporate discussions of substantive issues into their classrooms." As in many recent books, the villain is the standardized test, and the stakes, for both students and teachers, attached to it. Simon writes fluently, integrating transcripts of classroom discussions smoothly into her narrative and engagingly conveying her idealist's passion for reform. To reconsider education's entire enterprise is a very tall order, however, and Simon acknowledges the enormous obstacles her project faces. Readers will agree that students shouldn't continue to feel disengaged in school because they're denied the chance to ask and answer essential questions, but they may be skeptical of Simon's starry-eyed recipe for change. (Nov.)

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