Critical Professional Learning

you are here>> Reviews

You will find that the reviews provided here will often include some reference to policy. This is to maintain the purpose of Critical Professional Learning as outlined in the Home page. Wherever possible, therefore, reviews will include reference to the social and political context.

Book review:

A BRIEF RESPONSE TO CAMERON'S BOOK

David Cameron's book FOR THE RECORD has an air of desperation about it, particularly toward the end when he attempts to both justify the referendum and the work of the governments led by him. He claims to have rescued a broken country, transformed the English school system, narrowed the gap between rich and poor and fought a referendum that was entirely inevitable. He argues mostly by means of assertion.

Click here to read the whole review

Book review:

EDUCATION IN EAST JERUSALEM, OCCUPATION, POLITICAL POWER AND STRUGGLE by Samira Alayan

As well as being a good book it is also a necessary book. Not long ago a British MP stood up in the House of Commons to attack the education of Palestinian schoolchildren for being biased. Clearly she had not read PALESTINE IN ISRAELI SCHOOL BOOKS, IDEOLOGY AND PROPAGANDA IN EDUCATION by Nurit Peled-Elhanen or any number of learned articles by serious Israeli academics.

Click here to read the whole review

Book review:

WHAT WAS THAT BOOK FOR? - FEAR By Bob Woodward

Hours and hours of deep throat interviews; hours and hours of support from assistants; lots and lots of high quality political gossip; and what do we discover? We find out that Trump is shit; and we find out that there is no way that he can do any governmental ironing. I think we did not have to buy this book to know that, although the fresh gossip is entertaining. We find out that very many officials do their best to manage a fool. Could we not have guessed that? But most of all we find out that every passenger and crew member in this ship of fools, irrespective of any party label, is a champion of American hegemony. And that includes Woodward.

Click here to read the whole review

Book review:

100 YEARS BEFORE BREXIT - 1919 Britain on the brink of revolution by Chanie Rosenberg

Published in 1987 the inside page of this book bears the signature of Eric Heffer, Labour MP for Liverpool Walton. It came to me via the second hand book dealer who acquired many of his books when he died (there were a lot). I mention Heffer, born 1922, because his personal political history illustrates many of the uncertainties and misunderstandings that have beset socialism in Britain. For example, like so many others, Heffer placed Militant Tendency on the left. Having worked for a council controlled by them I saw Militant as extremely absolutist, the definition of a right wing government derived from the French Revolution in 1789. Discussion excluded all but a small controlling group. Dissent was not permitted. They reminded me of Calvin causing the death of Servetus because he was not the right kind of Protestant. What kind of socialist are you? Might you have a touch of syndicalism about you? Are anarchists goodies or baddies? Is the phrase ‘commanding heights of the economy’ a cop out? Religion is the regulation of faith. Socialism can feel just like that.

Click here to read the whole review

Book review:

A CURATE’S EGG - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

Let there be no mistake, this book is very good in many parts. Harari’s previous books, Sapiens: A Brief history of Humankind and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow have established his status as a publisher’s dream author. We know that widening perspective provides wisdom; that deeper analysis produces better insights; and that a well-turned phrase stays with and even convinces a reader. Harari has huge and varied perspectives; his insights emerge from deep analysis; and his phrases are often brilliantly constructed. Why then does he not consistently convince me?

Click here to read the whole review

Book review:

If way to the better there be, it extracts a full look at the worst. (Thomas Hardy) - A personal response to Naomi Klein’s book on the dangers of Trump and Trumpism

A personal response to Naomi Klein’s book on the dangers of Trump and Trumpism - NO IS NOT ENOUGH - Defeating the New Shock Politics Naomi Klein certainly shows us the worst. You think Trump is a joke? He provides plenty of opportunity to laugh. He also sets linguistic, ethical and intellectual standards below which it is hard to fall. He is, however, extremely dangerous. This important book details the dangers. It also shows us how to overcome them.

Click here to read the whole review

Book review:

STANDING UP FOR EDUCATION - Edited by Louise Regan and Tom Unterrainer - Education, Education, Education

Tony Blair pinched his famous triple-charged priority from his Chief of Staff, Jonathon Powell . He hired Michael Barber to tell him what it meant: teachers shooting arrows at rapidly moving targets in a changeable crosswind and being blamed when they missed. Michael Gove loved Blair and admired Barber who now influences so much educational policy and practice across the world.

Click here to read the whole review

Book review:

Commodification, that’s the name of the game - Responding to the Betrayal of a Generation

HOW EDUCATION IS FAILING YOUNG PEOPLE - BY Patrick Ainley

This is a good book and I like it - WH Auden (1971) - Patrick Ainley has written a book that makes clear critical sense of what has been happening to education and provides insights warning us to change direction. His book is invaluable for those that would oppose the use of education to further fracture society. He gives us facts aplenty and well-constructed argument. I am glad to say that the book certainly won’t be his last word on this matter. It is an important contribution to our thinking about how to move forward. It is also, I suggest, a driven book: driven by a growing sense of urgency and outrage that education has been used to deceive a generation. The betrayal is not confined to one country and readers will also find themselves driven: driven to think and to act.

Click here to read the whole review

Book review:

Mainstream or Tributary - A feminist Manifesto for Education By Miriam E. David

I would not be seen dead walking down the street with a feller carrying a shopping bag. It’s a woman’s job.

This was fifteen-year-old Agnes to me not long after the passing of the Equal Pay Act (1970) as I automatically reached for the bags from the chip shop. We had taken the order from her classmates who used to come back to school in the evening to make progress with their exam projects (coursework). Homes were sometimes crowded and noisy. It was a school for girls in a very Catholic part of Liverpool. We had a contract with Radio Merseyside to turn some of these projects into programmes to be broadcast. They were often family based, containing interviews with grandmothers as guardians of both family history and values.

Click here to read the whole review

Book review:

A NEED FULFILLED - A review of STUDENTS’ GUIDE TO SUCCESS AT almost EVERYTHING by Hugh Smith and Helen M Smith

We have been waiting for this book. It fulfils a need: a need too often unrecognised. Despite its title it will not only be students that benefit from it. Educators work better when their students ask good questions, research without needing too much direction and become participants in learning rather than merely recipients of knowledge.

Click here to read the whole review

Book review:

America’s Role in Creating a Massive Moral Deficit Against Our Better Judgment By Alison Weir

My response to a very significant book - It is always good to read a book on a subject you believe you know something about and to discover that the author has so much more to tell you.

It is also good to discover a perspective, in this case a perspective from the USA, that you had never fully used in order to make critical sense of a series of events, of casual historical assumptions, of the power of myth and self deception and of what I see as a descent into inhumanity: so many clever people, so much intellectual effort and scholarship and so much dedication to a cause that believed it had the right to displace an indigenous people, rob them of their rights, houses, land, liberty and lives.

Click here to read the whole review

Book review:

Valiant For Truth - A response to How the English Establishment Framed STEPHEN WARD By Caroline Kennedy & Phillip Knightley

When it mattered few of those we might see as dramatis personae in a tragedy remained close friends with truth. If self-preservation was weighed against truth it usually won. This was the case not only for individuals but also for government and for those that served and mingled with government. By contrast, Stephen Ward, the tragic hero, remained true to his friends and to life itself. And for that devotion to truth and life he killed himself and cheated an Establishment that sought to project upon him its lies, deceptions, duplicity and incompetence. The injustice done to him remains. This book reminds and bestirs us.

Click here to read the whole review

Book review:

Ersatz politics and deviant governance The Unfinished Revolution: How New Labour Changed British Politics For Ever by Philip Gould (2011)

In reviewing this book I had in mind the categories of judgment provided by WH Auden. In his A Certain World, A Commonplace Book (1971) he said

As readers, we remain in the nursery stage so long as we cannot distinguish between taste and judgment, so long, that is, as the only possible verdicts that we can pass on a book are two: this I like; this I don’t like.

For an adult reader, the possible verdicts are five: I can see that this is good and I like it; I can see that this is good but I don’t like it; I can see that this is good and, though at present I don’t like it, I believe that with perseverance I shall come to like it; I can see that this is trash but I like it; I can see that this is trash and I don’t like it.

You might like to guess my final Audenian conclusion. The review has already appeared on this website with a different introduction. With some slight syntactic editing I am re-publishing it because the result of the 2015 General Election has prompted what I regard as the dangerous re-emergence of Blairism.

Click here to read the whole review

Book review:

The Diary of an Apparatchik THE NEW MACHIAVELLI How to Wield Power In the Modern World By Jonathan Powell

I wrote this very short comment (hardly a review) on Powell’s book some time ago and it has been lurking on the In Draft page of my website ever since. The recent publication of BLAIR INC by Beckett, Hencke and Kochan features Jonathon Powell continuing his role as a Blair apparatchik. And now that Blair and company have seen fit to attempt to recapture the Labour Party after the 2015 General Election and the resignation of Ed Miliband I believe we need to be reminded that the Blairites have not gone away.

Click here to read the whole review

Book review:

WHAT LIES BEHIND THE MASK? BLAIR INC. THE MAN BEHIND THE MASK by Beckett, Hencke and Kochan

My specialisms are the professional learning of educators and political education. The specialisms have often intertwined. Before writing my response to this book I want, therefore, to be open about my perspectives, prejudices and priorities. Did I say 'open'? This is about Blair: the moral chameleon who has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep his mask on while the authors struggle to prise it open.

Click here to read the whole review

Book review:

Legitimate Membership Rights: a response to THE IDEA OF ISRAEL A HISTORY OF POWER AND KNOWLEDGE - by ILAN PAPPE

Borrowing from WH Auden’s set of possible literary judgments: ‘This is a good book and I like it.’

I just wanted to make that clear from the start.

Who might consider it to be (another of Auden’s categories) ‘A bad book and I don’t like it’?

The answer to that question is predictable but depressing. Not only does the list include demagogic deceivers such as Prime Minister Netanyahu, repulsive racists such as Foreign Minister Lieberman and sophisticated sophists such as President Peres but also includes highly qualified professional historians, archaeologists, journalists, artists and writers. They all collude in and depend upon (they live upon) acceptance and promotion of myth, falsification and what we have learned to call ‘spin’. In Israel’s case we are talking about Olympic standard spin, though Pappe suggests that increasing the spin may be decreasing its effectiveness.

Click here to read the whole review

Book review:

The General’s Son, Journey of an Israeli in Palestine - By Miko Peled

To paraphrase DH Lawrence, though Miko Peled writes of checkpoints and warfare, of wheelchairs and death, of humiliation and pride, of violence and peaceful protest, of enmity and friendship and of justice and injustice his theme is humanity. His journey is an external and an internal journey of discovery of others and also of self: for him and, I suggest, for readers. Reading his book made me angry, frustrated, tearful and very slightly and cautiously optimistic. It also made sense of some things I had witnessed.

But why that title? Before Miko’s father, Matti Peled, became known as an academic Arabist and campaigner for peace he had been a strikingly strong Israeli general. Exercising military power and control were not, however, addictions from which he suffered, though wanting to win arguments might have been.

Click here to read the whole review

Book review:

THE PRIVATE ABUSE of the PUBLIC INTEREST: MARKET MYTHS and POLICY MUDDLES - By Lawrence D. Brown and Lawrence R. Jacobs

Delusion can be comforting, for a while. David Cameron, George Osborne and Michael Gove share a dangerous delusion. It is that Big Society and Small Government (BSSG) go together. They see symmetry in simultaneous expansion and contraction. As, for example, Free Schools grow in number we can reduce the need for local government. It is a simple equation and very easily sloganised in a party manifesto.

Two things are wrong with BSSG. Writing mostly about the administration of George W Bush, Brown and Jacobs show that the more initiatives devised to set the people free the more regulatory oversight was needed. For example, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) sounded good as a slogan but it encouraged more private schools. The old structures holding public schools to account and maintaining quality did not reach the private ones so new structures had to be devised and staffed and new regulations drawn up. Children now travelled to a greater variety of schools so more pressure on transport systems. There was, the authors point out, more governmental activity under Bush than under Clinton from the attempt to shrink government.

Click here to read the whole review

Book review:

National narrative under scholarly analysis, Palestine in Israeli School Books, Ideology and Propaganda in Education - By Nurit Peled-Elhanan

“Hey, guess what, young Israeli soldiers are wearing cameras on their helmets as they search Arab houses looking for terrorists.” “Really?” “Yeah, its great, you should see the pictures”. “Wow, that’s cool”.

I paraphrase an overheard conversation between American visitors in a restaurant in Jaffa. It came to mind as I began to read this book. Remember that old American saying derived from General Sheridan as he suppressed the indigenous people in favour of settlers, ‘The only good Indian is a dead Indian’? Once it is believed that Indians are savage, inferior, uncivilised and a hindrance to the fulfilment of those with God (and a specially designed historical narrative) on their side it becomes much easier to pull the trigger when you have them in your sights.

Click here to read the whole review

Book review:

Approaching the reading of books

If asked to state briefly what I believe politics to be about I almost always respond that it is about the consensual arrival at values. If asked to state briefly the central social value at which I would prefer us to arrive I almost always say fairness. If asked to state briefly the central educational value at which I would prefer us to arrive I almost always say fulfilment.

Is that it then? Is there nothing more to be said? I have, after all, clearly stated that the values at which I wish the consensual process of politics to arrive when thinking about society and education are fairness and fulfilment; for me a very pleasing combination of beliefs. Surely, all I now need are the means of identifying and measuring them. If only. Each of my beliefs calls for explanation, exemplification, contextualisation, challenge and testing. I want to explore how I attempt this by the reading of particular books.

Click here to read the whole review

Book review:

The Essential Guide to Teaching 14-19 Diplomas - By Lynn Senior

The twists and turns of educational policy are, you might think, sufficiently confusing; but when we get to 14-19 it often feels as though, having just passed the examination to become a tourist guide at a maze, it has been replanted overnight to a different design and you not only have to re-do your examination but also to un-learn what you thought were solid facts. The maintenance of professional sanity is not a priority for government as it sets and re-sets policy but without it costly confusion beckons. It is, therefore, good to see that professional educators continue to be capable of generating supportive, sense-making books like this.

Click here to read more

Book review:

From illusion to delusion: A review of 'Tony Blair, A Journey'

Tony Blair was once thought able to conjure votes out of a hat: an illusionist of incredible charismatic power; but, as his book unconsciously but clearly demonstrates, the more he came to believe in his own powers of leadership the more deluded he became about the rightfulness, even the righteousness, of where he wanted to take us and how we should get there. Afghanistan and Iraq are not the only examples of this. He was the same in domestic policy, including his approach to education. ‘Gadarene’ is probably the best word to describe his style of leadership; the faster he galloped the more he came to believe that what he was doing was right; he gave himself no choice: he simply had to believe that he was right because he could not see or do things differently.

Click here to read the whole review

Book review:

The Essential Guide to Understanding Special Educational Needs - By Jenny Thompson

Feeling out-of-date on special education I approached this book hoping to be gently, but seriously, brought up-to-date. I believe I was. Of course, as I write, government could be planning some wholesale changes that will, inevitably, bring with them new terminology, new sets of initials and new legal requirements so I also asked myself to guess the shelf-life of the book. The detail and overall professional usefulness of this book will not fade quickly. Finally, I could not help remembering my own special need when I was at school: I needed to have more teachers who could really help me to learn so I asked myself if this book could enhance the professionalism of teachers in general. It will, irrespective of any specialism.

Click here to read the whole review

Book review:

Learning to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector - By Ewan Ingleby, Dawn Joyce and Sharon Powell

You often hear the Lifelong Learning sector called the Cinderella of education. The trouble with that description is that Prince Charming is not going to turn up and she is stuck with her father who was called, if you remember, Baron Hardup. Policy-making is continuously set and re-set by the Ugly Sisters and always includes: having to work at a number of educational levels; forming, dissolving and re-forming partnerships; taking the blame for the ills of society; finding money from nowhere; and generally leading ‘an interesting life’.

Click here to read the whole review