Classroom Conversations: A Collection of Classics for Parents and Teachers
by Alexandra Miletta and Maureen Miletta
(2008, The New Press)
Reviewed by Marti Schwartz
Novice-Teacher Educator (Rhode Island)
Teacher Leaders Network
Reading the articles gathered together in Classroom Conversations: A Collection of Classics for Parents and Teachers by Alexandra Miletta and Maureen Miletta (a mother-daughter pair of teacher educators who comment on each article) was a fascinating walk with many of the giants of education thinking who have shaped our path over the past century. Each article offered up wise words, grouped into five broad topics: Understanding Children, What’s Worth Learning, The Work of Teaching, On Equity and Issues of Social Justice, and The Final Word: Purposes of Education in a Democracy.
I picked this book up eagerly, squeezing it into early summer reading, seeking just the right one — or two — or even three articles which would illuminate the most important ideas for my novice teachers when we met in late July. As I read the introduction, I was reminded of one of my third grade students who wrote that “Ribsy by Beverly Cleary is a book that has stood the test of time because it has been read a lot and it has great words that everyone can use. Also they would be happy in the end because Henry finds Ribsy.”
So, too, Miletta & Miletta comment: “For our own well-being and in order to forget ahead, we often turn to our favorite writers, whose wise words and thoughts fill our bookshelves and files. These are people whose work stands the test of time. As educational fads and jargon come and go, we feel a strong connection to these great thinkers who have shaped our beliefs and practices in education and who continue to have an influence in the field.”
And these articles, these thinkers, from Vivian Gussin Paley and Eleanor Duckworth advising us to listen and learn from our students, to Peggy McIntosh and Sonia Nieto who seek to open our eyes to the cultural realms of our students in order to help us to understand their needs — all have wise words for us. Focusing on the arts — teaching the whole child (including both moral and intellectual attentiveness, according to David Hansen and so many others) — developing creative and critical thinkers, echoed and reechoed by so many writers within this text…confirm what (hopefully) most educators know and live by.
Each article is prefaced by an introduction written by one of the collection’s authors, with a conclusion offered by the alternate partner. Their comments summarized key points, quoted the highlights, gave background on the article’s author, and put forth the big ideas. Sometimes this made reading the actual article almost redundant.
In terms of article selection, it was not until I got to John Dewey (whose article was written between 1899-1906) that I became excited. YES! I shouted, over and over again. Maureen Miletta introduces his words with these:
It is amazing to me that educators faced many of these still-familiar concerns more than a century ago, and yet we now face national standards (with little educator input) and increasingly scripted curriculum, both of which unfortunately illustrate the continued lack of faith in the practitioners to whom the education of America’s children has been entrusted.
Many of these articles in this collection are well worth reading and re-reading. Many of the problems persist, and obviously will continue to vex those who believe that “schools should offer what students need to take part in a democratic society and its culture — a complex package for everybody’s children that would equip them for full participation in work, culture, and liberty.” (Joseph Featherstone, p.287). Unfortunately for my purposes, Classroom Conversations doesn’t open any new doors, or particularly extend our thinking on these issues, even with the comments from Alexandra and Maureen Miletta. In seeking solutions, my novices will need to look elsewhere.