The Shopping Mall High School, Arthur G....

The Shopping Mall High School, Arthur G. Powell, Eleanor Farrar and David K. Cohen (Houghton Mifflin: $8.95). This is the second and most inspired in a series of three books comprising "A Study of High Schools," a research project prompted by the realization in the early 1980s that low morale and lack of direction was adversely affecting achievement in U.S. schools. The third study, Robert Hampel's "The Last Little Citadel," pointed out that schools reflect public demand, not ideals of character. Here, the authors highlight the dangers of a system in which teachers "regard themselves as salespeople," striving "to attract customers and persuade them to buy." They visit 15 schools throughout the United States, lauding rigorous courses, criticizing "Applied Communication" (a class in which the teacher analyzes comic books) and making fun of a high school principal they interview who rejects the need for discipline ("During Dr. Nelson's celebration of freedom," the authors write, "he was informed that his son's locker had just blown up"). The authors sometimes venture too far to the right of Nelson, suggesting that T-shirts with any message involving sex be banned from schools, for instance, but their book is in fact a radical critique of the basic tenets underlying pluralism. Nelson's school may be popularly hailed for catering to fans of classics as well as to fans of comic books, but, in reality, by failing to celebrate "more focused notions of education or of character," the shopping mall high school only widens "the already wide gap" between poor and "preppie" students.

Boys and Girls: Superheroes in the Doll Corner, Vivian Gussin Paley (University of Chicago: $5.95). The classification on the jacket cover reads "education," but this revealing, often humorous little book from 1984 says less about teaching than it does about the emergence of creativity, sex roles and self-confidence. Under scrutiny here are Vivian Paley's kindergartners at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, where she is a "master teacher." Paley's decision to present her students' growth over a year in journal form sometimes makes this book disjointed, full of interesting but incompletely developed arguments. Her informal style, however, prevents her from assuming the scholarly role of omniscient, aloof observer. Paley stands with--not above--her students, enlisting their help when her theories fail to capture the dynamics of the classroom: "Why do you suppose boys never tell stories about princes and princesses?" she asks. Mary Ann stops painting a row of red tulips to respond, "Boys don't like to be fancy," while Charlotte adds, "They don't want to be fancy because girls do. " Sex roles are all but non-existent at the beginning of the year --"Policemen sweep the floor and dress the baby," Paley writes, "and mothers put men's vests over negligees while making vague appointments on the telephone"--but by age 4, students are busy engaging in symbolic rituals to affirm their masculinity or femininity: "I'm the mother," Charlotte observes, "because I'm wearing the silver shoes."

on Streets, edited by Stanford Anderson (MIT Press: $19.95). "All the world's a stage"--Pollio Vitruvius, Augustus' favorite architect, said it centuries before Shakespeare, though his analogy between drama and real life admittedly was more indirect, describing three types of social environments, or "scenes": "Tragic scenes are delineated with columns, pediments, statues and other objects suited to kings," he wrote. "Comic scenes exhibit private dwellings," while "satyric scenes are decorated with trees, mountains and other rustic objects." The essays collected in this idealistic, sometimes uncompromisingly academic study build on Vitruvius' premise, arguing that physical design has a marked effect on human thought and action. While sprinkled with jargon ("the concept of nonconforming use implies the existence of recognized conforming use"), the book amounts to more than an academic exercise. The authors focus on the street--the main avenue of urban interchange--in order to show the importance of a holistic view of architecture. While many believe architects already view everything on a grand scale, John Rykwert, a professor of art at the University of Essex in England, says just the opposite is the case: "Architects often bury themselves in individual building projects, ignoring any responsibility to the public space of the city." Examples of careful, considerate planning can be found in these pages, but most of the essays spotlight the effects of neglect, from the time Rousseau looked upon Parisian squalor ("How could the Enlightenment claim to be triumphant over the material order," he asked, "if it proved unable to constitute for itself a setting worthy of its brilliance?"), to the present day, when the word street has come to stand for "what is aberrant and fearful in light of social norms."

Just Friends: The Role of Friendship in Our Lives, Lillian B. Rubin (Harper & Row: $6.95). This 1985 survey by a psychotherapist illustrates why many popular, anecdotal approaches to social science don't work: Lacking a critical, theoretical focus, they often over-generalize to such an extent that all perspective on the issue is lost. In a chapter in this book on friendship between men and women, for instance, some of those interviewed say they spend too much time discussing feelings, while others talk about how sports and fun always dominate conversation; some emphasize the importance of "getting sex out of the way" so friendship can prosper, while others caution that sex inevitably destroys relationships. Interesting statistics are sometimes introduced to make sense of the confusion (we find, for instance, that only one out of five women prefers friendship with men to friendship with women), but, usually, the author's viewpoint is overly vague ("friendship is a personal institution") or obvious ("I use my male friends as sounding boards to get a male point of view").

The Progressive Movement: 1900-1915, edited by Richard Hofstadter (Simon & Schuster: $6.95). No sooner did America regain unity after the Civil War than a new rift began to emerge, this one prompted not by whites exploiting blacks but by industrialism exploiting whites and blacks. The Progressive Movement achieved few policy changes at the federal level, but it remains significant today because it paved the way for the welfare state and emphasized the need for at least some government intervention in the marketplace. To the credit of Richard Hofstadter, this book's main emphasis is not on the relatively well-known muckrakers of the period, but on the leaders who issued more timeless messages about political responsibility (Woodrow Wilson's concern that "individuality is being swallowed up" by giant organizations) and political agendas ("The socialists point out the connection between industrial maladjustment and individual wrongdoing," said Jane Addams, a sociologist, "but certainly . . . the obligation to eradicate vice cannot belong to one political party").

NOTEWORTHY: The Button: America's Nuclear Warning System--Does It Work?, Daniel Ford (Simon & Schuster: $8.95). No, argues the author, former executive director of the Union of Concerned Scientists, citing hot lines to the President that don't work, warning systems that rely on unprotected AT&T; wires and U.S. strategies "based not on retaliating but on striking first." California Roll, Roger L. Simon (Warner: $3.50). Moses Wine, a disillusioned ex-radical and reluctant private eye, has had enough. Before he can settle down as head of security for Silicon Valley's hottest computer company, however, an engineer at the firm is shot dead, and he's forced to contend with espionage, blackmail and Russian spies. Springsteen, Robert Hilburn (Rolling Stone: $17.95). Affectionate, abundantly illustrated biography of "the most acclaimed figure in American rock," whose character represents "emotional honesty and integrity" and whose music captures both "youthful exhilaration" and "darker social realism." Voices in an Empty Room, Francis King (Washington Square: $5.95). A mother loses her son, a sister loses her brother, a wife loses her husband--until, that is, they come to believe in communication from beyond the grave.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
57°