GROWING MINDS: On Becoming a Teacher by Herbert Kohl

GROWING MINDS: On Becoming a Teacher

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Chapters in Kohl's early life as a teacher, illustrations of the ""craft"" and ""content"" of teaching: the before-and-after, disparately, of 36 Children. (The longish foreword by Joseph Featherstone--anticipating themes, raising and countering objections--is indeed just what this ""characteristically informal"" book doesn't need.) Kohl always wanted to be a teacher. His family was in the construction business, and he sees human growth similarly: ""You have to discover who the child is by tapping and probing gently before a plan for construction or reconstruction can be developed."" In school, he had exemplars. Bronx kindergarten teacher Mrs. Cooper ""was a model of kindness and generosity in the midst of a harsh and sometimes violent environment, and I remember wanting to command similar respect when I grew up."" Fifth-grade teacher Mrs. Lennon shared her extra-Bronx travels and cultural tastes: ""You could help other people learn things about the world that they never imagined existed and share your enthusiasms."" After a first, thwarted attempt to teach his younger brother and his friends checkers (they already knew how to play, and wanted ""to annoy me by pretending not to learn""), he had an ideal pupil: homebound Roger, who responded to Auden's ""affirming flame""--and others of Kohl's junior-high passions. Despite Harvard and graduate studies in philosophy, Kohl's ""fantasy about being an elementary school teacher"" persisted. Lacking credentials, he took a job teaching emotionally disturbed youngsters in a private school--whence his habit of ""reworking the curriculum"" into individual curriculums. But: ""I like large groups, enjoy noise and defiance, and dramatic change""--so he capitulated and enrolled at Teachers College. There follow his first run-ins with authority, his early blunders and occasional breakthroughs: all pointing to the committed/consumed young-rebel teacher of 36 Children. At that point, the autobiographical chapters leave off--and the less noteworthy discussions of ""craft"" and ""content"" begin: largely incidents from Kohl's experience in various Open School (or out-of-school) California settings. Almost at random: he warns against ego-involvement (pressuring a child to learn prematurely); ponders how much subject-knowledge teachers should have; describes a summer production of Macbeth with seven-to-fourteen-year-olds. For Kohl regulars and prospective teachers, the clear signs of a calling may be attraction enough.

Pub Date: Feb. 29th, 1984
Publisher: Harper & Row