Book Review

How Schools Might Be Governed and Why

Reviewed by William G. Keane,
Associate Professor, Educational Leadership,
Oakland University, Rochester, Mich.



Seymour Sarason behaves toward public schools like a loving father might toward a wayward child.

In book after book he reminds us that public education has been under increasing and justifiable criticism since the end of World War II. Yet due to the disconnected organization of schools, few reform efforts will be successful because, as he puts it in an earlier work, "all such efforts accept the system as it is."

Thankfully, in his latest work, How Schools Might Be Governed and Why, Sarason has not abandoned the institution he obviously cares so much about, no matter how stubbornly it avoids the fundamental changes necessary to "sustain, reinforce and support students' wanting to do and learn more."

In this book, Sarason, a professor emeritus of psychology at Yale, purports no Delphic knowledge about what a reinvented public education system would look like. In a conversational tone he attempts merely to jump-start a serious national debate about system redesign. Fundamental change, he admits, only can emerge from the type of national dialogue that created our country. Our forefathers did not repair a flawed document, the Articles of Confederation, but rather created a "new system of governance, unlike anything in history."

Sarason begins by noting that state legislatures, governors and state departments of education are part of the system that so badly needs repair, often working at cross purposes with local district efforts. Yet his suggestions deal largely with smaller issues--creating a council of teachers and parents for three or four elementary schools for "advisory, evaluative and decision-making responsibilities," legislating opportunities for parents to attend some school governance meetings without loss of pay, expanding the use of community resources so that students may confront real problems and thus see the connection between school and the adult life they will live.

He sees little hope for a system that aspires to improve student learning but which itself cannot and does not learn.

(How Schools Might Be Governed and Why, by Seymour B. Sarason, Teachers College Press, 1234 Amsterdam Ave., New York, N.Y. 10027, 1997, $21.95 softcover)