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An extremely valuable tool in educating
Posted by firstname.lastname@example.org on 3/20/1998
This book represents the ideas generated by one woman's persistence in running progressive and successful schools. Deborah Meier, founder of the Central Park East schools in Harlem, is no newcomer to education. In this book, she finally puts on paper what she has spent so many of the past years practicing.
There is surprisingly little in this book which is new, innovative, or shocking. Indeed, much of what Meier has to say is mere common sense (like small schools and more proportionate teacher/student ratios work better). However,Meier puts common-sense notions in a way that grounds them in analogy and reality; one can't help but laugh on one page and growl on the next. Further, it is important to remember how much earlier Meier herself recognized and implemented these ideas than have other educators: while many of the ideas that she suggests are accepted, commonplace, and may be in vogue today, they were revolutionary when she began at Central Park East. The consequence of her early action is that the reader is privy to the RESULTS of many of the experimental ideas that other schools are just now begining to implement.
Furthermore, Meier specifically choses certain points that are currently in contention, and omits others; there is a definite pattern to her theory. You won't find mention of "gifted and talented" programs or even the necessity of monetary resources here (two ideas that are consistently part of heated debates regarding education reform); neither of these, Meier suggests through their omission, matter as much as the ideas she offers up, especially her "five habits of mind".
And as the statistics from her schools would show, she is on to something. Indeed, the only thing keeping this book from being rated a "10" is its lack of hard facts regarding her actual success. Meier is clearly writing theory, and avoids dry facts which, I think, would have added a degree of credibility to the book for those who don't know how credible an educator Meier is.
As an educator who has worked at Meier's newest Boston school, let me set those folks at ease: this stuff works.
A must read for those interested in public education!
Posted by Anonymous on 8/18/1999
One of the things I liked best about the Power of Their Ideas was the engaging writing. Meier writes as if whe is conversing with you. The development of theory backed with her personal experience and anecdotes from her schools make her ideas come alive. With relatively short chapters, each dealing with a major issue confronting public education today, and journal entries interspersed, the book is very accessible.
Easy enjoyable reading with powerful ideas. Meier gets one to think, as she must do for those who attend her schools. She engages you in her journey, without being afraid to show you where she has run into difficulties and where she sees no simple answers.
All in all this is a wonderful book for anyone who is interested in exploring what is happening and could happen with public eduction in this country.
Posted by M. Knoester on 8/28/2002
This is a terrific book. Meier writes with the wisdom of experience and a life spent struggling for the best education for all of her students. An inspiring book, and one that deserves a close reading by all concerned with quality public education.
Powerful Ideas from Deb Meier
Posted by Michael Klonsky on 3/10/2008
The Power of Their Ideas, by Deborah Meier. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995
Long before the current school restructuring movement was born, Deborah Meier's heart and soul were already in it. She came out of the 1960s as a "movement" person who began teaching accidentally, without any grand plan. But in 1974, Meier and a small group of colleagues founded Central Park East Elementary School in one wing of P.S. 171 in East Harlem, as a school that was not just "child-centered, but community-centered as well."
Unlike the wave of small alternative schools that had sprung up during that turbulent period, Central Park East was born as a school inside, not outside, the system. Under the protection of a new risk-taking district superintendent, Anthony Alvarado, Meier and her band of determined educators won the right to engage in a most radical practice--good teaching. They wanted, says Meier, "to provide at public expense for the least advantaged what the most advantaged bought privately for their own children."
The Power of Their Ideas refers to the ideas of those who were at the center of this small- schools movement: the teachers, parents, and students who created what Alternative Schools Director Sy Fliegel would later call, in the title of his book, Miracle in East Harlem. These ideas led to the success of four small schools of choice, working under all the constraints of the public school system. Meier, a radical critic of the system and at the same time a staunch defender of public education, wanted no part of vouchers or privatization. Her philosophy emerges from the telling of her story. Good teaching, she insists, is fostered by "small schools, schools of choice, school autonomy over the critical dimensions of teaching and learning, lots of time for building relationships...."
In journal notes, she finds meaning for small schools in the death of Carmela, one of her students:
The school's steady attention to Carmela and her family as she lay dying for nearly a year can't happen in a school five times our size. Yet death surrounds our kids. If death doesn't count, does life?
While the population of Central Park East still reflects a cross section of New York City, with the majority coming from low-income, African-American and Latino families, nearly all of its students graduate, go on to college, and do well there. Is this really a "miracle"? If all children can learn, why should Central Park East be equated with Lourdes?
It shouldn't. Central Park East and the 50 or so New York City schools modeled on it were not handed down from heaven. As Meier tells it, they were the product of hard work done by groups of teachers coming together voluntarily around a common philosophy:
a small crew of teachers who were ready to take the risks and seize the opportunities; and a group of families either desperate enough or eager enough to give it a chance.
The Power of Their Ideas is part journal, part handbook for the next generation of caring, innovative teachers who aren't sure if or how it can be done, and part treatise on democracy and education, taking on the why's, not just the how's of schooling. "For us," says Meier, "a democratic community was the nonnegotiable purpose of good schooling."
Available from Beacon Press, 25 Beacon St., Boston, MA 02108.
--Reviewed by Mike Klonsky, Small Schools Workshop