I Won't Learn from You: And Other Thoughts on Creative Maladjustment

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"I Won't Learn From You," Herb Kohl's now-classic essay on "not learning," or refusing to learn, is available for the first time in an affordable paperback edition along with four other landmark essays. Drawing on an idea of Martin Luther King Jr.'s, Kohl argues for "creative maladjustment" in the classroom and anywhere else that students' intelligence, dignity, or integrity are compromised by a teacher, an institution, or a larger social mindset.

This volume also includes "The...

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"I Won't Learn From You," Herb Kohl's now-classic essay on "not learning," or refusing to learn, is available for the first time in an affordable paperback edition along with four other landmark essays. Drawing on an idea of Martin Luther King Jr.'s, Kohl argues for "creative maladjustment" in the classroom and anywhere else that students' intelligence, dignity, or integrity are compromised by a teacher, an institution, or a larger social mindset.

This volume also includes "The Tattooed Man," Kohl's autobiographical essay about "hopemongering," which Kohl finds essential for all effective teaching in these difficult times.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"There is more insight in these pages than in many longer works."
The Progressive
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Despite the social and economic despair that pervades many U.S. public schools, meaningful learning and teaching are nevertheless possible, declares famed educator Kohl. To overcome the ``massive rejection of schooling by students from poor and oppressed communities,'' Kohl ( 36 Chil dren ), in these five inspirational, optimistic essays, outlines teaching strategies designed to unlock students' energy, intelligence and drive by encouraging them to envision ways to improve their world. He believes that both teachers and students should cultivate ``creative maladjustment,'' channeling personal discontent into moral or political action. Kohl defends multiculturalist curricula as central to the struggle for fairness. Turning to higher education, he argues that issues of academic freedom and ``political correctness'' are used by neoconservatives to mask their desire to control ideas in the university and to push out ethnic and women's studies. (Apr.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781565840966
  • Publisher: New Press, The
  • Publication date: 8/28/1995
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 370,634
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.32 (h) x 0.49 (d)

Meet the Author

Herbert Kohl is one of the country's leading educators and the author of more than forty books, including the classic 36 Children. Recipient of the National Book Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, among others, he was founder and first director of the Teachers and Writers Collaborative and established the PEN West Center in San Francisco. Kohl lives in Point Arena, California.
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Read an Excerpt


Not-learning, hopemongering, and creative maladjustment are on my mind these days. Not-learning is the conscious decision no to learn something that you could learn.It consists, for example, of refusing to learn how to cheat on your axes cook crack cocaine, or yield to community pressure to become racist or sexist—choosing not to learn something that you find morally offensive or personally noxious. Hopemongering is the affirmation of hope and the dream of a just and equitable future despite all the contrary evidence provided by experience. Creative maladjustment is the art of not becoming what other people want you to be and learning, in difficult times, to affirm yourself while at the same time remaining caring and compassionate.

These three concepts presuppose a fundamental belief that we all have freedom of choice and free will, and that each of us is responsible for the kind of person he becomes and for the way he treats others. Not-learning, hopemongering, and creative maladjustment are the guiding principles of my teaching and my personal life—principles sometimes difficult to maintain, but nevertheless persistent and insistent in their demands on everyday life.

The essays in this book are reflections on the complexity of holding to one's dreams. I Won't Learn from You was written a few years ago, but I have been thinking about some of the stories and ideas in it for over twenty years. The ideas in it are rooted in my childhood and my teaching. There have been times when I've been unable to speak about what I've experienced, when events have overwhelmed my ability to understand or communicate them. The story of Akmir, which I've tried to tell in the title essay, has troubled me for years, and I probably would not have written it if other youngsters I know these days had not been living through the same pain Akmir experienced in his short life.

"The Tattooed Man" was equally difficult for me to write because it had to do with why I became a public school teacher and why I continue to teach and care about public schools after seeing so many public schools that don't work. Writing it took me back to my childhood dreams and fantasies, and to my own experiences as a student in the New York City public schools. The essay is not just about schools. It is as much about how one comes back home to serve the community after having left how childhood shapes vocation, and how moral values become everyday principles. It is the most personal writing I have ever done.

The essays on equity and political correctness are part of my ongoing attempt to clarify the way we talk about children and learning and oppose stigmatization of all kinds. They are attempts to engage people in the continuing struggle for social and economic justice and to place it in the context of teaching and learning.

The final essay "Creative Maladjustment," is about the need to remain within public education while trying to transform it. It is an attempt to show, through stories, the ways i which positive changes can be made within systems that seem unmoveable and dysfunctional.

All of these essays are extended stories, teaching and learning tales. They provide approximations o theories and expositions of ideas based on my experiences and those of people I've been privileged to work with or work for. Taken together they proclaim the abiding importance of teaching hope, resisting arbitrary authority, and taking control of one's own learning. They are my way of sharing the problems and rewards of trying to do decent work in a too-often indecent society and of affirming the importance of all our stories.

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Table of Contents


Foreword to the 1995 edition by Jonathan Kozol IX

Foreword by Colin Greer X

Preface XIII

Acknowledgements XVII

I Won't Learn From You I

The Tattoed Man: Confessions of a Hopemonger 33

Excellence, Equality, and Equity 89

Uncommon Differences: On Political Correctness,
Core Curriculum, and Democracy in Education 103

Creative Maladjustment and The Struggle for Public Education 127

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2004

    Great for Future/Present Teachers

    I'm still in college, majoring in Early Childhood/Elementary Education, and I believe this book has given me more insight as a future teacher. I am also a tutor, and this book has guided me as a better tutor.

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