Reviews - Professionally Speaking - December 1997

December 1997



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"B" is for Bully

Alan Gotlib, Music by Alice Brass

Reviewed by Brad Ross

Bullying has been a fixture in schoolyards for generations. Parents and teachers have attempted to deal with it over the years, with varying degrees of success. Yet it persists. So, why not let the children deal with it? Let the victims and victimizers address bullying head-on – this time in the form of a musical drama.

Alan Gotlib and Alice Brass teach at Noth York’s Claude Watson School for the Arts. Their play "B" is for Bully, written by Gotlib with music by Brass, offers an artistic approach to resolving bullying, coupled with a useful and workable study guide for teachers.

The characters – objects from school desks – are being bullied by Blanche (the whiteout), with the assistance of her enforcer, Blade (the scissors). School children Colin and Emily are experiencing a similar problem with a bullying classmate. The scenes interchange as the two groups work to resolve their dilemma.

Gotlib, who teaches Grade 4 academics, French and drama, was a victim of bullying himself as a child. He says he didn’t cope with it very well, and naturally saw the issue of bullying as an important one for schools to deal with.

"It’s very easy to become too preachy with kids," he says. "That’s why I introduced objects in the play – it allows the children to distance themselves and not feel they’re being hit over the head with the issue."

The study guide, which is included with the script and musical score, offers a range of activities for teachers to use in heightening students’ awareness about bullying and how they might confront and solve the problem themselves. "I don’t know of any other source that combines everything in one package: the script, music, background information and guide," says Gotlib.

"The whole package is designed to be very teacher-friendly. There are a lot of teachers who don’t have a background in the arts and, therefore, feel insecure about dealing with it. But there’s plenty in the package for teachers to use beyond the production itself."

"B" is for Bully was written for performers in Grades 4 through 6, though all ages come away with the key message, says Gotlib: bullying can be stopped if enough people take a stand.

"B" is for Bully is available at Theatre Books and at the Children’s Bookstore, both in Toronto. Or you can order it directly from the author. Write to Alan Gotlib, 87 Monarch Park Ave., Toronto, ON M4J 4R1; tel: (416) 466-7040; fax (416) 698-2120 or e-mail The teacher’s edition, including the play and music, costs $34.95. A package of 16 scripts costs $30. The accompaniment on audio cassette costs $10.


Enseigner, scénario pour un métier nouveau

Philippe Meirieu
ESF éditeur, France


Reviewed by Marie-Josée Berger

As the 21st century draws nearer, and as education evolves in response to an ever-changing society, Philippe Meirieu makes a plea for the profession of teaching. He invents a new scenario in which the teacher guides students and helps them to make discerning choices and take appropriate action by referring them to the resources in their social, economic and cultural environment. In this scenario, everyday adventures and attention to people and resources feed the profession of teaching. And it is a profession in which the passion for learning is a continual source of exhilaration.

Philippe Meirieu goes on to explain that the role of a teacher is to "learn how to teach by learning." In his view, the unique nature of the profession means that the contribution of educational partners such as parents and the community should be subordinate to teachers’ enthusiasm and requirements.

Meirieu proposes a functional learning model based on situations that let students deconstruct knowledge and discover their own personal strategy. Meirieu also suggests approaches for formulating instructions, adopting winning strategies, teaching reading and identifying the keys to success. He uses a methodology that asks three fundamental questions: What is the task? What is the problem? What is the situation? Students must be able to visualize the expectations and criteria that will help them determine whether or not they have accomplished the task.

Some of the chapters describe situations that relate to education in France, and some of the terms are typical of European educational vocabulary. However, the book discusses universal topics, such as diversity in the schools and family-school communication that are relevant to education in any industrialized country. Meirieu emphasizes teacher training. He advocates two essential principles: learning-based training and placing teachers in action research situations. He also suggests working co-operatively to analyze needs, interpret expectations, respond to demand and solve professional problems.

All those debating the role and mission of our schools are apt to find Philippe Meirieu’s book profoundly thought-provoking. He prompts discussion of an issue that will always be timely: the profession of teaching.

Marie-Josée Berger is associate professor and head of OISE/UT’s Ottawa Valley Regional Centre.


God in the Classroom

Lois Sweet
McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1997


Reviewed by John Cruickshank

Lois Sweet has written a most intriguing analysis of – as the cover states – The Controversial Issue of Religion in Canada’s Schools. She provides a current and comprehensive presentation of the state of religion in both public and independent schools, specifically in Canada, with reference to examples in Europe, in an easy-to-read book.

The present state of religion in Canadian schools is put into perspective with specific discussion of the impact of guarantees provided for in the British North America Act. Although I was under what I feel is the generally held belief that the entrenchment of these rights is immutable, the author quite rightly makes the point that times and circumstances have changed significantly since the development of the BNA Act and that changes can be justified.

The book provides numerous specific examples of the experiences of students who have attended independent religious schools and publicly-funded separate schools.

Sweet is careful to provide a balanced approach, highlighting both the successful and unsuccessful experiences of students in these settings.

She discusses the impact of the extension of funding through to the end of high school for separate schools in Ontario, particularly in Essex County, and looks at how the experiences of teachers transferred from the public to separate system reveal the divisiveness and controversy that usually surround any discussion of the place of religion in schools.

Throughout the book Sweet refers to the notion of "religious literacy" which she describes as "…not just a knowledge of one’s own beliefs, but a capacity to encounter and analyze respectfully the religious views of others, and to see that enterprise as personally worth while."

The author doesn’t advocate a system that promotes religious values but rather "…one that supports a range of religious perspectives that teaches respect for religious thought and religious diversity through the way in which children are taught and challenged to think about matters."

Sweet believes that the public school system is the best place for this to occur, as the requirement for certified teachers and an appropriate curriculum and standards can be mandated. She also believes that the public school system must change in order to reflect and accommodate the many and varied religions and beliefs that are present in Canada today.

She cites the Edmonton School Board, where religious alternative schools are available within the public school system, as a model for "a more just and equitable system of education."

Sweet deals with the traditionally controversial issue of religion in schools in a reasoned manner in this book. In the increasingly multicultural environment that we teach in, and with a clear commitment to equity, I feel that this book would not be out of place on any teacher’s professional reading list.

John Cruickshank is the principal of Marvin Heights Public School in Mississauga and Vice-Chair of the Ontario College of Teachers.


Public Schools and Political Ideas:
Canadian Educational Policy in Historical Perspective

Ronald Manzer
University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1994


Reviewed by Nancy Page

Ronald Manzer is a political scientist who has studied over a century and a half of public education policy in Canada. In Public Schools and Political Ideas: Canadian Educational Policy in Historical Perspective he addresses issues like curriculum, district organization, laws, finance and personnel for each province.

As the title indicates, his work interweaves the historical contexts, political ideas, and public beliefs that have served as the underpinnings to Canadian educational policies.

Manzer writes that public schools have long been political symbols – agents of political consensus. "Decisions over the form, content, and place of learning have become broad political issues involving many ... participants beyond teachers and students ..."

He examines the influences of both religion and state in his attempt to reach his objective: "to interpret the political ideas that underlie educational institutions and policies and give them meaning, both for those who fought the battles, made the policies and lived with the consequences (not necessarily the same people) and for those of us who look backwards trying to understand the implications of these legacies from our past and forwards wondering what to do now."

According to Manzer, Canadian public educational policies have occurred in four waves of liberalism: political, economic, ethical and technological.

The first wave – political liberalism – occurred in the latter half of the 19th century. It was characterized by its drive for a non-sectarian civic education that was common to all schools. It never did succeed in its attempt to obliterate conservative attachments to communitarian values based on religion and language.

The second wave – economic liberalism – occurred in the first half of this century. It was characterized by its drive for public education to meet the needs of an industrial economy. It brought us separate academic and vocational/technical schools, composite schools, and large school districts to encompass both urban and rural students. Class distinctions and a virtual exclusion of business interests from educational policy-making underpinned this idea and paved the way for its successor.

The third wave – ethical liberalism – occurred in the 1960s. It was characterized by its emphasis on child-centred learning and on curriculum and governance that should respond to the distinctive needs of individual children from diverse communities.

Manzer believes that we are now entering a fourth wave – technological liberalism. It is characterized by its preoccupation with the emergence of a global economy. Public education must therefore become more effective and efficient in preparing today’s youth for a highly competitive labour force. Standardized teaching and measures of performance are deemed to be superior techniques in achieving this goal.

Manzer does an excellent job of putting educational policy in Canada into a historical perspective. For this reader he helps to make sense of the current educational trends and changes of the 1990s. What is missing, however, is the other point of view. Manzer mostly recounts the final policies. Readers who want to know who the adversaries were in various policy campaigns will need to look elsewhere. Regardless, this is a compelling and timely read.

Nancy Page teaches at Erin Mills Senior Public School in Peel Region.