Important Ed Tech Book Reviews

 From Now On
The Educational Technology Journal

 Vol 11|No 8|May|2002

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Learning by Heart

by Roland Barth

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Reviewed by Jamie McKenzie
About the Author

"Differences often bring with them unevenness, expense, tensions, even conflict. But the objective of our work as educators is not to create a dissonance-free environment but rather to create a learning-full environment, to build a community of learners."

Learning by Heart
p. 71

Schools should be about exploration and challenge, growth and caring according to veteran educator and school leader, Roland Barth. He sees too much American school "reform" coming down from above and warns that healthy change must come from within each school community.

Barth began in the 1960s as a teacher and principal but moved on to head up the Principal's Center at Harvard. For the past two decades he has been an important American voice arguing for schools that are engaging, warm and full of magic. His approach to leadership and change stands in welcome contrast to many of the currently popular strategies grounded in high-stakes testing, strategic planning and standardization.

Learning by Heart is almost wistful in tone as Barth approaches the end of his career and the writing of what he thinks may be his last book. While optimistic and full of passion, the book suggests an approach to school reform that is at odds with current trends.

The word "courage" came to mind as I read through Barth's words. The phrase "voice in the wilderness" followed shortly. I was often moved, inspired and challenged by his questions, his wishes and his dreams for children, for teachers and for schools.

But I also found the book saddening and maddening at times as I contrasted prevailing practices with the approaches outlined by Barth. One of the most impressive chapters comes at the end as Barth outlines the choices facing a school intent on creating a vision.

Vision building or buying can be a pretty silly exercise that often does little to improve learning or the quality of life, we discover.

This trap becomes apparent as Barth humorously lists and portrays the approaches available to decide upon a vision:

  1. Inherit a vision
  2. Explicate a vision
  3. Refine a vision
  4. Borrow a vision
  5. Buy a vision
  6. Hire a vision
  7. Homogenize a vision
  8. Grow a vision

Barth's favorite? The last on the list.

The few schools I visit that have a vital, courageous, demanding, uplifting vision - where most educators and students are familiar with the vision, where day-to-day behavior is constantly scrutinized for evidence of congruity with that vision, and where the school is incrementally approaching that vision - are schools where school-based educators have succeeded in growing their own vision.

Learning by Heart
p. 203

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Credits: The photographs were shot by Jamie McKenzie.

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