cover image THE ESSENTIAL CONVERSATION: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other

THE ESSENTIAL CONVERSATION: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, . . Random, $24.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-375-50527-0

On the surface, this book is about that most ordinary of human encounters—the parent/teacher meeting—that takes place more than 100 million times a year, usually in uncomfortable, undersized chairs. Beneath the smooth surface of this mostly polite exchange, according to Harvard education professor Lawrence-Lightfoot, lurk ancestral ghosts and ancient psychological themes, a turbulent mix of fears, anxieties, drives and biases that both parties bring to the table. Add to this the vectors of race, class, gender, culture and language, and you have a set of complex and passionate dynamics that often have as much to do with the adults' desires and needs as with those of the children. Parents and teachers have a lot to learn from each other, says Lawrence-Lightfoot, and these essential conversations are a crucial if neglected aspect of children's educational success. As in her previous works, Worlds Apart: Relationships Between Families and Schools and The Good High School: Portraits of Character and Culture, Lawrence-Lightfoot draws readers in with elegant prose and carefully drawn narrative portraits. Curiously, she does not feature any male elementary school teachers; their inclusion could have made the discussions of gender and power even more thought provoking and complex. But this is a minor shortcoming in an otherwise significant and thoughtfully rendered exploration of a social ritual many adults commonly experience but seldom examine. Anyone who has ever sat through a parent/teacher conference, on either side of the tiny table, will find much to consider in these pages. Agent, Ike Williams. (Sept. 2)