Review of Challenging the Giant:
Education Reform Books

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Challenging the Giant, Volume I
Reviewed by Kah Ying Choo
 

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Created to provide a voice for the alternative education community, Mary Leue's vol. I: The Best of Skole, (1992) the Journal of Alternative Education consists of diverse writings from teachers, students and academics.    
 

More than a compilation of individual articles, this book captures the unique characteristics, the independent philosophy and creative methods, which have defined alternative education over the last four decades:

 
  • The empowerment of students, parents and teachers
  • The recognition of the need to educate the intellectual, physical and emotional aspects of each individual
  • The acknowledgement of individuality and diversity in learning styles and personal character
  • The emphasis of human relationships and thus, the creation of a community
 
For many of these educators, their valiant struggle to create an alternative type of education sprang from their frustration with traditional methods of education that destroys the students' intuitive passion for learning.  Even more significantly, Leue's (1992) anthology is a celebration of the vision of extraordinary individuals who wanted to create an alternative to the current society that is characterized by overconsumption, disillusionment and the death of community life.
 
Reflecting the democratic orientation and the communal quality of an alternative educational institution, this anthology is divided into several sections: 1) Profiled schools that highlight the challenging beginnings of several alternative schools; 2) Articles written by prominent educators that espouse the philosophy of alternative education; 3) Poems that feature poetry produced by the students who play an integral role in the alternative education movement; 4) Studies that analyze and validate the effectiveness of alternative education; and 5) Book Reviews showcasing books that have contributed to the development of alternative education.  
 
Although these articles have been written by different educators, they are interwoven with common threads that have created the unusual and incredible tapestry of alternative education.  In "History of the Free School," Mary Leue (1992) depicts the controversial and difficult creation of the Free School.
 
Based on a learner-centered model, the Free School sought to provide the children with an exciting place for learning without imposing its structure on them.   More significantly, the Free School challenged the social and economic prejudices of a capitalist society by creating an alternative society.  By acquiring several buildings in a dilapidated area, Leue used the Free School to transform a downtrodden neighborhood into a tightly-knit community that helped its members and shared resources.
 
The "village" that revolved around the Free School was not only able to provide housing and education for the members of its community, but was also able to provide medical and legal assistance.  Essentially, by overcoming seemingly insurmountably challenges and difficulties, Leue (1992) and her supporters were able to realize a vision of an ideal community that brought out the best in humanity.
 
This belief that the quality of education lies at the heart of the society is also illuminated in writings such as John Taylor Gatto's (1992) article, "Why Schools Don't Educate."   According to Gatto (1992), the crisis of drugs, sex, violence and overconsumption is a result of the traditional education system that has failed to allow children to learn and grow.  In the artificial school environment that emphasizes student conformity and divides learning into discrete subjects, students cannot learn about their strengths and weaknesses.  Furthermore, their learning is out-of-touch with reality.  Thus, Gatto (1992) believes that students should be given a conducive environment for independent study and exposed to apprenticeships in various organizations, as well as community service.
 
Even though these two writings constitute merely a small sample of the anthology, they reflect the passion and commitment of individuals who have dedicated their lives towards creating a new type of education and a new world.  In spite of public apathy and opposition, participants in the alternative education movement have made personal sacrifices and have forged ahead with their vision.  Unfortunately, they represent only a minority of people who have dared to voice the fundamental reality that the current education system is detrimental to the growth of our children and future of our society.  Thus, this anthology offers a valuable forum for educators to spread their message and save future generations of children from being victimized by the current education system.
 
Leue, M. (Ed.). (1992). Challenging the giant, vol. I: The best of Skole, the journal of alternative education. Ashfield: Down-to-Earth Books.
 
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Click here for additional reviews of volumes 1 & 2 by Claudia Berman, and Vols. 3 &4 by Emanuel Pariser
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