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Jesse Goodman
Professor of Education and American Studies
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Nicole Roales
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Tuesday, August 8, 2006

New book reveals the possibilities, struggles and complexities involved in reforming today’s schools

August 8, 2006

Jesse Goodman image

Jesse Goodman

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- When Jesse Goodman, a professor of education and American studies at Indiana University Bloomington, researched K-12 education at Bloomington's Harmony School, he saw students who were intellectually engaged and challenged. He also saw students who -- working individually and collectively -- were given a voice about matters that involved their daily lives in school and relationships with others.

"I saw lots of classroom-based curriculum develop instead of letting textbooks or state standards determine exactly what was taught," Goodman said. "These teachers were thoughtfully involved, and kids were often excited about going to school. In addition, their relationships with teachers were less formal and more intimate, therefore creating an educational experience that was authentic for both educators and the students."

His research at Harmony -- a small, private and progressive school with pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, elementary and secondary programs in Bloomington -- prompted him to propose the creation of the Harmony Education Center in 1990 to assist other schools and teachers with educational programs. It also resulted in his first book, Elementary Schooling for Critical Democracy (SUNY Press, 1992), which is available online and in most bookstores.Now, after more than a dozen years of working with schools across the United States, Goodman has written his second book, Reforming Schools: Working within a Progressive Tradition during Conservative Times (SUNY Press, July 2006). In the book, Goodman discusses the possibilities, struggles and complexities involved in reforming today's schools. Drawing from his and his colleagues' experiences, Goodman offers a vision of how to persevere at a time when many progressive educators are feeling discouraged.

Goodman believes progressive education has both educational and socio-political agendas. Educators are primarily concerned with the intellectual engagement of children and view schools and classrooms as communities, he said. Skills are taught in the context of educationally stimulating material that students learn collectively and individually. The socio-political side focuses on an education that will give students from different backgrounds the intellectual tools to become active participants in what Goodman calls "our imperfect democracy."

"The ethos of democracy and social justice are woven into the curriculum and serve as a guideline for making pedagogical and organizational decisions," Goodman said. "The purpose of schooling isn't just for people to assume the occupational needs of society; it fulfills democratic and social justice needs as well."

Across the country, it is a difficult time for progressive educators, Goodman said. In the book, he reveals what educators do in their classrooms to promote the goals of progressive education and ways in which schools such as Harmony have reconceptualized curriculum and become more autonomous. Reforming Schools also shows how "teachers and school reformers work within and respond to the constraints generated by the conservative agenda that is dominating our conventional schools today," he said.

Goodman places his educational ideas within a socio-historical context as an alternative to both the conservative and the radical-left analyses of schools and society. In addition, he illustrates the complexities and challenges of progressive school reform, such as establishing school autonomy; creating democratic structures, rituals and values upon which school reform discourse can be generated; addressing the pedagogical implications of current conservative agenda; and what he and his colleagues have learned about being progressive, external, change agents working to improve schools during difficult times.

Goodman said the book will be of interest to scholars and graduate students who are studying the relationship between schools and society, as well as education and social theory. He added that it also will be of value to those scholars and educators who are studying or working to create more authentic and meaningful educational experiences for teachers and their students.

Reforming Schools: Working within a Progressive Tradition during Conservative Times (SUNY Press, July 2006) is available now through bookstores and can be obtained online by visiting