Harvard Educational Review
  1. Crosscurrents:

    Contemporary Canadian Educational Issues

    Edited by Lance W. Roberts and Rodney A. Clifton

    Ontario: Nelson Canada, 1995. 487 pp. $24.95 (paper).

    Nearly everyone feels knowledgeable enough to have informed opinions about education, yet making judgments of "right-or-wrong" or "yes-or-no" on many educational issues is difficult and often irrelevant to a diverse audience. This situation creates tremendous ambiguity for those who work in the field of education, especially teachers. For instance, should schools serve societal interests? Are standardized tests biased against particular groups of students? Does practice teaching benefit student teachers? Lance Roberts and Rodney Clifton, professors at the University of Manitoba in Canada, attempt to provide a foundation for teachers to explore such issues in their coedited book, Crosscurrents: Contemporary Canadian Educational Issues.

    This volume is a collection of twenty-eight thought-provoking essays written by various educators from both Canada and the United States between 1975 and 1994. All the essays selected attempt to address fourteen contemporary educational issues in Canada and are organized around three themes. The first theme includes issues related to current aims of schools in Canadian society, such as "Should aboriginal people control their own schools?" and "Should private schools receive public funding?" The second theme covers issues related to the place of gender, ethnicity, and culture in classroom instruction, including "Should education focus on multiculturalism?" and "Are French immersion programs justified for English-speaking children?" The final theme addresses issues related to teacher education and teaching, such as "Should teachers teach values?" Although these issues are discussed primarily in the context of the Canadian educational system, they have been undergoing debate in many other countries around the world. The general relevance of these questions makes the book valuable to a wider audience than the editors of the book perhaps intended.

    The book is meant to be used in introductory courses in education. The editors use a debate format to present competing arguments about these fourteen issues because they believe that "the best way for teachers to develop considered opinions about contemporary educational issues is to expose them to opposing points of view" (p. viii). For each issue, the editors include two articles with opposing points of view, along with an introduction and a postscript. The introduction provides a context (often the editors use a scenario from an environment familiar to teachers) for considering the debate, while the postscript provides suggestions for further reading and discussion questions. The editors further establish the context surrounding these issues through an introductory essay, which provides students with an overview of some topics. This overview offers an analytic tool for examining these persuasive essays, which helps teachers not only to think critically about the articles in each section, but also to formulate personal positions on the topics. This format distinguishes this book as an excellent teaching aid and makes it more interesting to read.

    For example, the "Issue Thirteen" chapter addresses the question "Should teachers teach values?" In the chapter's opening, the editors introduce the basic concept of values and their importance to our lives. After pointing out that values define the ends toward which our actions are directed and give our lives meaning and direction, the editors raise the question that "just because values are important does not mean that they must necessarily be a part of the school's agenda" (p. 438). They juxtapose employers' complaints of the low levels of literacy among recent school graduates with the increasing destruction and disarray observed in schools as examples to demonstrate both sides of the argument for and against moral education in schools. Next follows a supporting article, written by Professors Joseph Malikail and Douglas Stewart at the University of Regina (located in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan) in 1988, and an opposing article, written by Professor Bruce Baker at the University of Missouri in 1991. In the postscript section, the editors recommend eight articles and books for further reading and propose two questions for further discussion: "What does the term `moral development' mean in your judgment?" and "Should it be focused more on process or content?" (p. 455).

    Although the issues included in the book are diverse and important, it is not clear why and how they were chosen. Do they really represent the most important contemporary educational issues in Canada for student teachers to consider? Also, two-thirds of the essays were written and published before 1990, raising questions about their currency. Finally, the editors acknowledge that a few of the essays in the book discuss issues not specific to the Canadian context (although all of them relate to Canadian conditions) because they encountered a lack of domestic literature relevant to the subject.

    Nevertheless, this book is a good introductory textbook for students enrolled in education courses and an informative book for practitioners to help them consider the various dimensions of important educational issues. Furthermore, this may be a useful reference book for those who work in the comparative education field, as it offers Canadian perspectives on some universal educational issues.

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