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6,002,4N-Ar V” , ttv\\’ >,.\\ xv::RNIA, ‘nwvt:Notr. .ms-” ,:-…-..,,,,.\\ v… e .., k.. .,.:N. ..,:: Thomas D. Bleich BOOKS & THE CULTURE / Listening to the Children Writing Into and Out of the Public Schools BY MARVIN HOFFMAN WILL MY NAME BE SHOUTED OUT? By Stephen O’Connor. Simon and Schuster. 388 pages. $23.50. CITY KIDS, CITY TEACHERS: Reports from the Front Row. Edited by William Ayers and Patricia Ford. The New Press. 345 pages. $25.00. i bring to my discussion of these two books enough conflicts of interest to warrant a Congressional investigation. Stephen O’Connor, the author of Will My Name Be Shouted Out?, works for an organization called Teachers and Writers Collaborative in New York City. The book grows out of efforts in the city’s public schools sponsored by the Collaborative. I was one of the early directors of the organization, beginning in the early ’60s, and am as proud as can be that it is one of the rare few survivors of a heady early period of curriculum reforms. Most of them drowned in a back-to-basics tidal wave, only to re-surface in the late ’80s. Currently the reincarnations are barely keeping their heads above water in the highly politicized wars over the virtues of direct skills instruction vs. learning embedded in the performance of tasks with real meaning and purpose. TWC brings professional writers into public school classrooms to develop new approaches to teaching writing. Students and teachers benefit from continual contact over the school year with real practitioners of the craft, who attempt to apply the wisdom they have culled from their struggles with the unyielding page to shape their approach to teaching writing. Texas readers will be especially interested to know that an offshoot of the Colhas been operating in Houston for the last ten years. I, together with Phillip Lopate, another Collaborative alumnus and later a professor of Creative Writing at the University of Houston, adapted the program to the steamy Houston environment where it has flourished in the hands of a dedicated crew of writers and support staff. Several years ago, during my tenure on the organization’s board, WITS invited Stephen O’Connor to conduct training workshops for Houston writers new to the project. Now that you know how fully implicated I am in O’Connor’s work, I can, purged of guilt, plunge into the book itself. The author was heir to an intensive project involving a team of writers-in-residence in a Manhattan public school, begun by Phillip Lopate, who made his work there the subject of a highly regarded book, Being With Children. Like its predecessor, Will My Name Be Shouted Out? is ostensibly a nar rative about mounting major dramatic productions with children. In both instances we learn a good deal along the way about schools, children, teachers, writing and their complex interactions. Of the two, O’Connor’s account places greater emphasis on the pathology weighing down the lives of his junior-high age charges, which threatens to negate even his most creative, most valiant plans for them. Perhaps we are witnessing the social unraveling in the years between the two books. O’Connor decides that what his students would connect with are plays stitched together from monologues and dialogues written in response and reaction to public events of special significance to people of color in New York. The first was the murder of Yussef Hawkins, a young African American who was beaten to death by a group of whites in Bensonhurst. He had SEPTEMBER 13, 1996 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25