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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Book review: Theories of Childhood

Here is my review of Theories of Childhood: An Introduction to Dewey, Montessori, Erikson, Piaget, & Vygotsky, as posted on Amazon:

5 out of 5 stars

The worst thing I can say about this little book is that the title doesn't name Mooney's intended audience, which the reader quickly realizes is very specific: the teachers and guides of preschool and early-elementary aged children. But for that audience -- and, I would contend, also for the parents of infants and toddlers -- this is an excellent book. Mooney's purpose is to make the wisdom of these five theorists accessible to those who do not have time or interest to read dense, abstract theory, and I think she has succeeded admirably.

The introduction initially turned me off, as it begins with a rant about the evils of living in contemporary America -- apparently this is meant to show the reader how rational education and childcare are in extra need today. For me this is a throw-away argument: the basic ideas of the theories presented in this book would be extremely important to consider relative to raising children in any culture, time or place. There's no need to get on a soapbox about the "consumerism" and sundry "inequities" of our society.

The rest of the book completely won me over. The main text proceeds in five chapters covering some of the basic ideas of the five theorists named. The author had a difficult challenge in trying to introduce the reader to the complex theories of five extremely prolific thinkers (Piaget alone wrote 30 books) within less than 100 pages, and yet this book is an overwhelming success. This is because by narrowing down her intended audience and focusing on practical advice, Mooney can cover just the basic ideas from each theory that are especially relevant to early-childhood teachers.

The writing is readable and never dull, despite the inaccessibility of some of the thinkers she is presenting, and the structure within each chapter works well: first the theorist is presented generally, then a bit of his or her theory is presented in abstract, culminating in a short list of specific, practical guidelines, which are described with well-chosen, homey examples. For each theorist, there are two or three bits of theory presented this way in rotation. Very short lists of review questions and further reading suggestions follow each chapter.

Mooney makes minimal attempts to note some of the most obvious overlaps between the theorists, as well as some of the contrasts (such as Vygotsky's criticism of Piaget's supposed tendency to view learning as a primarily private affair). But since the focus of this book is on readable, practical advice for teachers -- on putting the theories to use in the classroom -- there is no deep analysis of the theories or of any of their subtleties. Not only are minor points of the theories consciously missing, some of each theory's major points are missing as well. This focus on relevant essentials is a real strength of the book.

As a parent, I loved this book. For one thing, it introduced me to some of the principles of Erikson which I think are critical to good parenting. In the end, I wonder if both teachers and parents of toddlers wouldn't be well-advised to re-read this small book every year.

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  • At 10:14 AM , Blogger Duane Worthington said...

    This is a well-written review. I got hooked into reading it all the way through, and I'm not even particularly interested in the subject.

    It's also incredible how any person who reads a book today can share his review of it with the world, then anyone who likes his review can buy the book with a click of the mouse. What an incredible world we live in! I say, Alexandria, Shmalexandria!


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