teacher a heart: Reflections Lenard Covello community. By Vito Perrone.
Teacher with a Heart: Reflections on Leonard Covello and Community is a highly important didactic work. It represents a unique structure and form of a manuscript, as it is authored both by Vito Perrone and Covello himself in a dialogue of sorts between the two men and their reflections upon the educational process in the United States. The first part of the book is authored by Perrone, who actively engages with the circumstances that contributed to Covello's seminal autobiographical work, The Heart is the Teacher. Covello's memoirs are out of print, so in approaching a book review of sorts in this particular fashion, Perrone is both restoring some of the more salient wisdom regarding pedagogy gathered in the middle of the 20th century, as well as providing it with crucial updates so that it continues to have educational and social relevance in the 21st century.
The manuscript itself is divided into two parts, the first of which finds Perrone discussing various factors that contributed to Covello's decidedly passionate and involved process of educating students. Before elucidating just what exactly those factors were that contributed to the latter's philosophy, and the myriad poignant similarities between the two authors that are discussed by Perrone and which have inevitably influenced his teaching style, it is best to understand the gravity of Covello's. The Italian emigrant spent the better part of 45 years actively working as a teacher in New York (specifically as the initial principal of East Harlem's Benjamin Franklin High School) (Cinotto, 2004, p. 497) during a crucial period that spanned both World Wars, fascism, the rise of global communism as well as McCarthyism. As such, the sapience he gleaned during his tenure and which summarizes his philosophy towards the importance of education is offered in the following quotation from Perrone's work, which was one of the many he liberally utilized from Covello's original text:
The teacher is the heart of the educational process and he must be given the opportunity to teach -- to devote himself whole-heartedly to his job under the best circumstances. Half a century as a teacher leads me to the conclusion that the battle for a better world will be won or lost in our schools (Perrone, 1998, p. 144).
Although such rhetoric is fairly commonplace in contemporary society, this philosophy takes on particular eminence when one understands the social context that Covello lived through that showed him that these wrods were quite literally true. The first half of Teacher with a Heart: Reflections on Leonard Covello and Community allows Peronne an opportunity to detail the particulars of Covello's life and how it inexorably led him to fostering a teaching philosophy that was unique for his day. Perrone seamlessly blends tales of the immigration struggle that Covello went through with those of his own parents, since Perrone himself is also of Italian descent and a pedagogue as well. The focus is more on Perrone's life and the tribulations his parents endured as the sole Italian family in Michigan to help him eventually find his own vocation as a teacher.
What makes this part of the book noteworthy, however, is the reflections on the experiences and tenets of Covello as both a teacher and a practitioner of life from the perspective of an immigrant. In fact, the focus on immigration and the surrounding community that fosters newcomers to the country, and that of the very country itself, is one of the principle motifs of this work. The conception of community is discussed at length by both authors since one's community provides the overall context of one's education. It is interesting to note that this theme of community and immigration spans beyond the mere Italian background shared by both authors, and comes to encompass the general community of not only Covello's students in East Harlem, but also that of Perrone's students as well.
The latter portion of the manuscript is merely an extended excerpt from Covello's autobiography. From a purely subjective perspective, this part of the manuscript is the most riveting. It details the vicissitudes that Covello and his family overcame as Italian immigrants. It also shows his dedication to teaching in a way that is hard for most contemporary educators to match. There are several cliche, gripping and gritty films about pedagogues who assert their influence over their students not only in their schools but also in their surrounding communities -- which are oftentimes less than desirable. However, Covello's dedication and actuating such films and concepts into actual life is by far more compelling -- and effective from the point of an educator. An excellent example of the type of creative thinking he employed that helped ground his teaching philosophy is found in the subsequent quotation.
When talking to one of my boys, the first question I asked was where he lived. I sought to project myself outside and beyond the walls of the school and visualize the block where he lived, the home from which he came…Only by understanding him could I teach him (Perrone, 1998, p. 41).
This is a powerful quotation and illustrates one of the more profound points of this manuscript, and about teaching in general. The overall message propagated through this work of literature is that education is a social function, and exists as one of the many aspects of society that plays a part in a student's life. Unfortunately, in modern times this proper perspective of what education is and how it functions in the life of an individual is all too often overlooked. Pedagogues prefer to force students to adhere to their conventions, or to those of the school or of the school district, in order to educate them. Cavello directly contradicts such an assembly-line process by emphasizing the personal and the surrounding social context in which education occurs. Perrone consistently alludes to the value of such an approach in his first half of the book, by distinctly explicating what those additional social factors that influenced his life, education, and decision to teach are.
More importantly, this book actually provides an ideology for teaching that I personally have valued, yet was never quite able to formulate into my own philosophy prior to reading this narrative. My initial foray into the realm of pedagogy was my most insightful and productive. That it occurred when I was a teenager and was hired on to tutor groups of students during a summer day camp session at a local community center played no small part in the value of this experience. However, I was with students who looked like me, who lived in my neighborhood, and who were actively engaged in many of the same pursuits that I was outside of the classroom both when I was their age as well as at that particular time.
As such, that sort of social intimacy and familiarity -- which was reinforced through a similar community as well as through largely the same sort of ethnic background -- enabled me to figuratively 'reach' my students and present topics of learning to them in a fashion that they were able to care about. There was a degree of relevancy for both them and me during the educational process, as well as a sort of familiarity that is crucial for the development of the student as a student, as well as productive member of society. Reading about the experiences of both Perrone and Cavello -- particularly the latter as he transmuted those experiences into a teaching philosophy valuing community and the social context in which education occurs -- helped me to refine my own teaching philosophy in alignment with that process which I had very nearly forgotten.
Thus, the overarching ideology that Covello propagated during his tenure as…