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Grace Feuerverger. Teaching, Learning, and Other Miracles.

Grace Feuerverger. Teaching, Learning, and Other Miracles. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers, 2007. 156 pp. $30.00 sc.

"Learning is a treasure which accompanies its owner everywhere." --Chinese proverb

"Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher." --Japanese proverb

"Education is light, lack of it darkness." --Russian proverb

Source: Website of the National Education Association in Washington DC: http://www.nea.org

Teaching, Learning, and other Miracles by Grace Feuerverger is a genuine translation of the essence of the aforesaid proverbs. For example, in conformity with the Chinese proverb above, Feuerverger reflects on her school days and says, "I was given unimaginable treasure" (1). In this narrative book, the author shares with readers her autobiographical story with emphasis on the educational aspect.

Although the simple and straightforward title of this book does not reveal its rich content, a critical reader is able to benefit from its hidden treasures and use them as guidelines for life success. As well, choosing the word 'miracles' in the title is successful as it reflects the reality of most schools nowadays. The author's message here is that miracles are already seen in some schools, while others still need miracles for change to happen. The introduction of the book gives an impression of the religious background of the author who considers "[A]n explanation of teaching and learning in schools as a sacred life journey" (1), and thinks that "[T]eaching became a pilgrim's journey" (2) and that "[A] teacher can be a messenger ... to his or her students" (3). In this ambitious work, Feuerverger reflects on her academic life, first as a student and later as a teacher. The book consists of a series of chronological episodes, each carrying a specific message to learners, teachers, and educators. The author successfully delivers those messages through discussing the main goals of this literary work.

"As a child of Holocaust survivors", Feuerverger stated that one of the main goals behind writing this book was to give hope to the school children who suffered from war, violence, poverty, and abuse as well as for those who teach them (1). Another goal was to shed light on the significant role that a good public education can play in building the character of students of all backgrounds, cultures, races and religions (ibid.). Moreover, the book was an attempt "to explore the ways in which teaching as an act of courage and beauty forms the basis for creating a spirit of community within the classroom and beyond (2)." She also wrote this book to highlight the significance of school as a salvation during her childhood (ibid.). Feuerverger cleverly discussed those goals through the distinguished outline of her book, which is divided into two main parts: first her school life as a child and as a teacher, second her professional experience as a university professor. Each part is broken down into chapters that were ordered in pursuant to the author's professional life cycle.

The first part of the book mirrors Feuerverger's experiences as a school child who survived the Holocaust and found a refuge in the school. Emotionally and sometimes sadly she described her memories in school as being full of diverse students who came from different ethnicities and cultures. The author narrated how she lived "bilingualism in a multicultural context (19)." Next, she depicted a portrait of her passion for school and the French language and how they became her only homeland and offered her hope in the world. She said that "French language saved my life and the classroom became my true and only home" (25). Then, Feuerverger discussed her first experience as a school teacher and how she adopted storytelling as a pedagogical approach. She believes that "a great teacher is a great storyteller" (47). This belief conforms with Doyle (1990) who argues that teachers store their knowledge in narratives.

In part two, Feuerverger reflects on her teaching experience as a university professor, where she managed to build a warm rapport with her students via "journaling and storytelling." That was followed by an elaboration on her philosophy of teaching. She also discussed an ESL project that was implemented by the Ministry of Education to assist immigrant children in Canada to develop their literacy knowledge as well as to enhance parents' involvement in their childrens' education. In this part, there was a reference to Yiddish, the mother tongue of the author, as well as the language of communication at home. Feuerverger successfully described her strong bonds with her heritage language, which was followed by a discussion of her relations with refugee children who came from war-torn countries. As a teacher, Feuerverger sympathized with those children because she thought that they had lived similar circumstances to hers.

This book is an extraordinary piece of literature; it is a vivid and rich book with endless lessons to learn. In fact, Teaching, Learning, and Other Miracles has something to offer to all those involved in the education process, namely students, teachers, educators, and parents. The book beautifully presents a portrait on the art of teaching, a perception of teacher-student relations, and most importantly, gives inspiration and practical guidance to educators. A critical analyst should be able to track many issues Feuerverger handled in her book, such as justice, oppression, respect of the other, freedom, and democracy in a multicultural society. Having read this narrative more than once, it seems that the author is influenced by educational theorists, such as Paulo Friere and John Dewey. Freire called for the liberation of his students (Freire 1968) and Dewey called for a democratic education (Dewey 1944). They both stressed the import nee of mutual respect and dialogue between students and teachers. This book also provides a panoramic view of the significance of inclusion of minority students in the public education system in Canada. It awakens the decision makers who set the educational policies so they will not ignore the diverse nature of schools in Canada. Curriculum planners should also take into account the importance of teaching heritage language and homeland culture in order to encourage students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds to develop their literacy skills both in English as their second language and their first language as well.

The author competently used a poetic language to convey various messages to her readers. She used metaphors, such as "Yiddish was a drowning man taking others down with him" (105), and sometimes, similes: "I ran into the arms of French language like an orphan child" (22). Undoubtedly, Feuerverger's autobiographical story gives hope to many students who lived and still live similar life conditions. Needless to say, the book provides teachers with the courage required to create a more democratic environment in the classroom, as she stated: "All issues can be raised because everything is negotiable" (72). Here, Feuerverger adopts Dewey's theory of education in which he argues that the most effective form of education was a democratic education, wherein students were prepared for their role as participants in a democratic society (Engel 2008). Furthermore, one of the strengths of this narrative work is its universality. It carries a universal message that is valid at all times and in all settings; it is the message of love, peace and coexistence. Added to that, Feuerverger repeatedly referred to the power of language in building character or what is called "character education." To her, language represented a "safe place", "refuge", and "home". She believed in the significant role that language plays in our lives, and for that reason she adopted storytelling as an approach to teaching diverse students in order to develop their language skills and to gain life experiences. By choosing this approach, Feuerverger agrees with Collins and Cooper (1997), who believe that storytelling develops appreciation for the beauty and rhythm of the language.

Another strength in this work is that Feuerverger speaks in different voices: as an educator: "teaching and learning are a shared enterprise" (6); as a humanist: "a sense of belonging to the family of mankind" (39); as a Holocaust survivor: "I had a sense of woundedness" (37); and as a peace maker: "all students must learn to live together peacefully" (140). As a researcher and observer, Feuerverger also tackled, intentionally or unintentionally, crucial issues, such as inequality, discrimination, and social justice when she mentioned that "the image of stranger is central to many immigrants" (78). The one message she wanted to deliver through those voices is that a teacher is someone who does more than teach.

Although the book is ordered in an academic format and the chapters are neatly organized, some areas seem misplaced and do not conform to the twelve-chapter outline. For example, Chapter 8 (My Yiddish Voice) seems oddly placed in the midst of part two of the book. However, this weakness is outweighed by the many strengths of the work. Overall, the book is written in a readable and understandable language. It is a blend of social, cultural, linguistic, and educational studies. And it represents a rich source for teachers, educators and researchers, especially those who work with diverse students.

References:

Collins, R., and P. J. Cooper. 1997. The Power of Stow: Teaching through storytelling. Needham Heights, MA: A Viacom Company.

Dewey, J. 1944. Democracy and Education (First Free Press Paperback Edition 1966 ed.). New York: Macmillan Publishing Co.

Doyle, W. 1990. Case methods in the education of teachers. Teacher Education Quarterly 17.1: 7-15. Engel, L. H. 2008. Experiments in Democratic Education: Dewey's Lab School and Korczak's Children's Republic. Social Studies 99.3: 117-121.

Freire, P. 1968. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Trans. M. B. Ramos. New York: Herder and Herder.

Kamal Mahmoud

Department of Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning, OISE, University of Toronto
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Author:Mahmoud, Kamal
Publication:Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2015
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