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Black Ants and Buddhists: Thinking Critically and Teaching Differently in the Primary Grades.

BLACK ANTS AND BUDDHISTS: Thinking Critically and Teaching Differently in the Primary Grades. Mary Cowhey. Portland, ME: Stenhouse. 244 pages. $18.00. The content of this recent publication is as intriguing as its unconventional title. Black Ants and Buddhists is based on the notion that authentic learning experiences both flow from and foster the stories of our lives. In this regard, the author shares a plethora of stories from her personal history, expertly weaving lessons learned and questions posed in the multifaceted roles she has played as a daughter, wife, mother, labor organizer, social activist, and classroom teacher. Although drawn from the events of daily life, these stories probe such provocative areas as the causes of poverty, the need for social change, the purposes of education, and much more.

Cowhey offers a perspective of primary education that challenges the status quo. While current news reports emphasize the need for basics, this text demonstrates the natural affinity that children have to probe both the depth and breadth of diverse areas of the curriculum. While schools scurry to implement commercially produced character education curricula, the author shares vivid portraits of the initiative her students take in their competent, caring, and thoughtful involvement in social justice projects. Citing the challenging content and multilayered pedagogy that characterize her classroom practice, the author debunks the notion that developmentally appropriate practice must be simplistic.

This fascinating text takes readers on a journey into Cowhey's self-described "Peace Classroom" and provides a glimpse at the way that the author's life and learning have shaped the experiences that take place within its parameters. The book is nothing short of provocative. Because the author tackles tough topics and writes from a particular and clearly articulated ideology, the text is sure to be perceived as controversial. While her ideas will resonate with many readers, others will disagree strongly. This is the nature of critical theory; the book provides a venue from which readers can survey a multiplicity of perspectives and consider their own assumptions and practice in light of them. Black Ants and Buddhists makes a contribution to the professional literature in the realms of both early childhood and teacher education. An enjoyable read for practicing teachers, it would also make a stimulating supplementary text for a graduate course. Reviewed by Patricia A. Crawford, University of Pittsburgh
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Author:Crawford, Patricia A.
Publication:Childhood Education
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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