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Walking on Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution
Derrick Jensen
White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2004
226 pp., $22.50, hardcover
ISBN: 1-931498-48-2


"As is true for most people I know, I've always loved learning. As is also true for most people I know, I always hated school. Why is that?"

This is the major question that Derrick Jensen asks and tries to answer in his book on education, the problems of traditional schooling, learning, and writing. He critiques K-12 education in this country based on his own experiences and later, as a writing teacher attempting to teach in a different way. Jensen argues that much of primary and secondary education sets up children to hate learning, obey authority, regurgitate information, and be good American citizens who don't question capitalism, our government, or experts. It is a critique that many before him have made as well, including Brazilian educator Paulo Freire and American feminist thinker bell hooks. Socialization into the status quo is one of the major purposes of traditional ideas of education, and in the political climate today of "teaching to the test," standardization, global economic competition, and "no child left behind" policies, it is becoming even more elaborated.

What makes this book different than other books on the problems of American education is that Jensen actually uses grounded examples of teaching practice to show alternative ways to teach. He teaches writing in both a community college and local prison and shows different assignment ideas as well as class discussions about how to engage students in the learning process. Jensen believes that the one real purpose of education is not socialization into the society as it is, but to manifest each student's true identity, passions, and knowledge. He writes

"If modern industrial education…requires the subsumption of the individual,…then the most revolutionary thing we can do is follow our hearts, to manifest who we really are. And we are in desperate need of revolution, on all scales and in all ways."

By helping students manifest their true identities, Jensen believes that K-12 and higher education can be part of revolution and social change. We spend at least thirteen years of our young lives in institutions of education and usually many more if we attend college. I agree that education can be part of developing the skills of critical thinking and questioning as well as producing new solutions to the problems we face nationally and globally. But this would require that we really engage in a dialogue about the purposes of education, rather than reproducing the status quo and allowing education to continue to be mainly about taking tests.

While Jensen's book works on an abstract and theoretical level of social change, it also works on a practical level for those wanting to learn to be better writers themselves or for teachers of writing. As a teacher myself, I found many useful examples of exercises and ideas for encouraging students in developing their own voices in writing. Jensen argues that good writing "shows, rather than tells" and he definitely shows in very clear ways what good and potentially revolutionary teaching looks like.

— Dana Van Tilborg


Order from:
Chelsea Green Publishing Co.
PO Box 428
White River Junction, VT 05001
(800) 639-4099
www.chelseagreen.com

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"Una cosa es vestir y alimentar a nuestras hijas, sin embargo lo esencial es enseñarles que otras personas — fuera de ellas mismas — son tambien importantes. Lo mejor que pueden hacer con sus vidas es dedicarlas al servicio de los demás."

"Giving kids clothes and food is one thing, but it's much more important to teach them that other people besides themselves are important, and that the best thing they can do with their lives is to use them in the service of other people."

--Dolores Huerta



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