Past and Present

An Encounter with the Elders

By Herb Kohl

Teacher With a Heart: Reflections on Leonard Covello and Community. Vito Perrone (New York: Teacher College Press, 1998).

School Equity: Strategy for Creating Productive Schools in a Just Society. ed. Marilyn J. Cittell (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998).

I must confess self-interest in the first book I want to recommend. Over the past years I’ve become increasingly interested in the lives and writings of past educators who, in different historical contexts, have struggled with issues of equity and justice in education. When I encounter the works of people such as Homer Lane, Elizabeth Peabody, August Eichorn, Janos Korczek, and Fritz Redl, it is as if we have begun an imaginary conversation. Their work informs what I do, and in some way we are speaking to each other.

Recently I have had an opportunity to actually translate this notion of imaginary dialogs on education into a new series of books entitled Between Teacher and Text. Each volume will consist of an essay by a current educator and a selection from the written works of the elder they are conversing with.

The first volume, Teacher With a Heart: Reflections on Leonard Covello and Community.,has just been published by Teachers College Press. Since I didn’t write the book and do love it, I feel free to recommend it as “good stuff.” The book is by Vito Perrone, the founder of the North Dakota Study Group and now director of teacher education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The teacher “with a heart” is Leonard Covello, who was a leading progressive educator and practicing teacher and principal all his working life, which ranged from the late 1920s to the 1950s. Both Covello and Perrone grew up in Italian immigrant families. In reflecting on his own life and on Covello’s text, Perrone talks about growing up Italian, about the relationship between culture and learning, freedom and dignity, and the evolution of a humane and compassionate philosophy of education.

Perrone’s essay and the selection from Covello’s book provide a whole that places current struggles for equity and justice in education in the context of the continuing effort to create genuine democracy.

Another important book is School Equity: Strategy for Creating Productive Schools in a Just Society. This book of essays, edited by Marilyn J. Gittell, covers topics from school finance reform to the politics of education. It is particularly interesting on engaging the community in school change, and in putting equity at the center of reform. I believe every teacher should become an intellectual and be informed about the complex social and policy issues that affect work in the classroom. We have to know how to teach well. But we also need to become more active in shaping public conversations and policies concerning schools.

The essays in this book provide an excellent way to equip oneself to jump into current educational battles and make classroom voices heard in the political arena.