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Ruby Heap, Wyn Millar and Elizabeth Smyth. Learning to Practice: professional education in historical and contemporary perspective.

Ruby Heap, Wyn Millar and Elizabeth Smyth. Learning to Practice: professional education in Historical and contemporary perspective, Ottawa, University of Ottawa Press, 2005, ISBN 0776-6060-50.

This is a collection of well written and thought provoking interdisciplinary articles written around the theme of what makes a profession. The book has three themes--establishing the most efficacious place to carry out professional education; the nature of the link between initial training and continuing training; and the comparison between professional training across time and occupations. Of the three themes the first is the one that can be more easily identified as the strong focus of most of the essays with the other two mostly inferred rather than directly addressed. The essays began as a collection directly targeted toward women's professional work and there is a strong undercurrent focusing on women's struggle to be identified in professions which were dominated by men and had a professional culture dominated by men. This is both a strength and a limitation to the book in that because of the strong women's theme, some of the larger issues which it purports to address get lost in the story. However this is of minor concern. This is a book providing a very useful, usually historical, context to present debate on professional preparation and continuing professional reflection. The issues that arise are thought provoking and salutary in a world that often dismisses the lessons of the past when exploring current issues, reinforcing the need to continually guard against those who would reduce the role of historical and sociological studies when training for the professions. The methodologies are various including oral histories, archival documents, various university student documents, professional journals, surveys, and personal letters and as such the volume provides a useful guide to historical methodology.

The first essay by Bob Gidney, 'Madame How' and 'Lady Why': learning to practice in historical perspective, is an excellent examination of the various forms of professional training over time and some of the contexts in which this training took place. It links contemporary perspectives to historical trends. Gidney argues that there has always been a tension between professionals learning 'how' and also learning 'why' and it appears to be the case that the various quantities of the 'how' and 'why' are what leads to different forms of training, from an apprenticeship model, to a community college model, to the university model. In order to be a more prestigious profession it was usually desirable to go to university. The university-only model for professional training did not widen the social base for the profession however. The apprenticeship and community colleges did.

The rest of the essays provide case studies to exemplify the overall themes of the book. They include studies of the training of clergy; the training of social workers; the training of wartime volunteers in nursing and the impact that this had on the nursing profession; the changing role of Christian missionary medical assistants in birth control clinics in India; an excellent comparative sociologically--based study of students attending professional training in Engineering, Medicine and Dentistry from the 1910s to the 1950s; and a group of studies using life stories of women--women in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering at the University of Toronto, a comparative study of women studying to become physicists and historians in select periods of the twenthieth century and women becoming lawyers in contemporary times. The final study is one that is the exception that tends to prove the rule--the history of dental hygienists who were at one time educated in universities (supervised by the dental profession) but in order to improve their professional standing, oral hygienists are now being trained in colleges.

It is difficult to draw strong conclusions from such varied groups of studies but the case studies are interesting and informative. If there were to be any criticisms they would be that there is a strong emphasis on women's studies (not necessarily a bad thing but not identified as the subject of the text); a strong emphasis on Toronto, Canada (that could perhaps limit the applicability of the research findings); a variety of different methodologies which allow for diversity but limit the ability to apply principles to other areas; and the fact that only a couple of essays put the individual study in the wider academic context. Overall I would recommend it as a useful collection of case studies as exemplars for examining methodology for historical research, as well as a valuable guide to perspectives on the current issues surrounding professional practice.

RUTH REYNOLDS

The University of Newcastle
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Author:Reynolds, Ruth
Publication:History of Education Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2006
Words:759
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