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The Essential Conversation


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About the Author

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, a sociologist, is a professor of education at Harvard University, where, since 1972, she has studied the culture of schools, families, and communities. She is the author of eight books, including The Good High School, Respect, I've Known Rivers, and Balm in Gilead, which won the 1988 Christopher Award for "literary merit and humanitarian achievement." In 1984, she was the recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Prize Fellowship. In 1993, she was awarded Harvard's George Ledlie Prize for research that makes the "most valuable contribution to science" and is to "the benefit of mankind." She is the first African-American woman in Harvard's history to have an endowed professorship named in her honor.


On the surface, this book is about that most ordinary of human encounters-the parent/teacher meeting-that takes place more than 100 million times a year, usually in uncomfortable, undersized chairs. Beneath the smooth surface of this mostly polite exchange, according to Harvard education professor Lawrence-Lightfoot, lurk ancestral ghosts and ancient psychological themes, a turbulent mix of fears, anxieties, drives and biases that both parties bring to the table. Add to this the vectors of race, class, gender, culture and language, and you have a set of complex and passionate dynamics that often have as much to do with the adults' desires and needs as with those of the children. Parents and teachers have a lot to learn from each other, says Lawrence-Lightfoot, and these essential conversations are a crucial if neglected aspect of children's educational success. As in her previous works, Worlds Apart: Relationships Between Families and Schools and The Good High School: Portraits of Character and Culture, Lawrence-Lightfoot draws readers in with elegant prose and carefully drawn narrative portraits. Curiously, she does not feature any male elementary school teachers; their inclusion could have made the discussions of gender and power even more thought provoking and complex. But this is a minor shortcoming in an otherwise significant and thoughtfully rendered exploration of a social ritual many adults commonly experience but seldom examine. Anyone who has ever sat through a parent/teacher conference, on either side of the tiny table, will find much to consider in these pages. Agent, Ike Williams. (Sept. 2) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

"Here is a book that will help us all understand what happens when children leave home in order to learn at school: One world meets another, and as a consequence the young witness their elders in an instructive encounter of great significance--all of which is told forthrightly and thoughtfully in an enormously important volume (one soon to be a classic in the literature of education) that will be of continuing value to its readers." --Robert Coles, author of Children of Crisis and Lives of Moral Leadership

"Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot has demonstrated again her instinct for the telling specificity that offers not only insight into matters of broad social concern but also reason for hope. In precise and luminous prose she connects our deepest passions and painful memories to the conversations that will determine our children's futures." --Mary Catherine Bateson, author of Composing a Life

Lawrence-Lightfoot, the first African American woman in Harvard's history to have an endowed professorship named in her honor, has studied the culture of schools, families, and communities since 1972. Full of wisdom and insight, her book will help parents understand what happens when children leave home to learn at school and how to improve their learning experiences. She makes the case that parents and teachers need to work in unison and captures the dynamics of powerful and passionate dialogs between them, identifying new perspectives, sound principles, and effective practices that serve to foster more meaningful relationships between these important adults in a child's life. These dialogs, according to the author, serve as a mirror and metaphor for the larger cultural forces that define family-school relationships and are at the root of whether they work or fail. The information in this significant educational work is told in a forthright and thoughtful manner and will continue to be of immense value. Recommended for all types of libraries.-Samuel T. Huang, Univ. of Arizona Lib., Tucson Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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