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by David K. Cohen

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-674-05110-2
Publisher: Harvard Univ.

An examination of the quandaries surrounding the teaching profession from various angles.

Cohen (The Ordeal of Equality: Did Federal Regulation Fix the Schools?, 2009, etc.) discusses the complexity of teaching, and in starting with the task of defining the profession, he illustrates the byzantine nature of the American education system. He explains some underlying problems that are often neglected, such as how teachers “do not play a central part in setting standards of occupational quality,” and he touches upon conflicts concerning testing and controversies surrounding what the results mean. Cohen emphasizes how educators are not practicing in isolation, which further complicates the matter. If there are limited connections between school and real-world experiences, he writes, then students’ investment in the system is compromised. “Teaching in such circumstances is the human improver’s version of unrequited love: the prospect of success is appealing, but its costs can be enormous when students’ and teachers’ work is not framed by contracts to work hard together. The responsibility for improvement is one-sided,” he writes. The author mentions societal influences such as the emergence of “well-educated and engaged young teachers in Teach For America” and charter schools as a positive response to the issues, but he does not explain how or why. Cohen’s focus seems to drift in his exploration of types of instructional discourse. He does not offer solutions to the predicaments of the book’s title, but he does prove that “US public education is not organized to help teachers manage the predicaments of their occupation.”

Uneven but ultimately useful for educators and reformers.