“Teaching with Purpose: An Inquiry into the Who, Why, and How We Teach” by James D. Kirylo, Rowman & Littlefield, $24, 185 pages, paperback

As Louisiana — indeed the nation — embarks on a new school year, there are cries for help in nearly every corner of American public education.

Testing has moved to the forefront of academic and public discussion, which is believed by many to be the single biggest problem facing our schools today. Against this backdrop, Southeastern Louisiana University professor James D. Kirylo offers a voice of hope and reason in dealing with the important issues in his new book, "Teaching with Purpose: An Inquiry into the Who, Why, and How We Teach."

Howard Gardner, a Harvard professor of cognition and education, sums up the situation this way: “(American) society suffers from three biases: Westist, Testist and Bestist. Westist involves putting certain Western cultural values, which date back to Socrates, on a pedestal. Logical thinking is important; rationality is important, but they are not the only virtues. Testist suggests a bias toward focusing on those human abilities or approaches that are readily testable. Bestist, which implies that all the answers to a given problem lie in one certain approach, such as logical-mathematical thinking, can be very dangerous.”

There has long been argument as to the real purpose of American public schools: transmitting knowledge and culture intact; transforming society; or nurturing individual development. The pendulum has swung to extremes many times in the history of public education.

Schools have long been viewed as change agents, and teachers, who were once at the forefront of decision-making, have been reduced to dispensers, collectors and tabulators of data. School improvement is determined almost entirely by numbers — specifically, standardized test scores. Standardized testing ad absurdum has created an atmosphere of anxiety, anger and distrust among teachers, students and parents. It places the primary onus for improvement on teachers, to the virtual exclusion of other variables. Kirylo’s book emphasizes six key dispositions needed for the development of creative, humane teachers: love, faith, hope, humility, compassion and persistence.

Along with these qualities, there must also exist an environment of equity, diversity and social justice. Are we not equally charged with the nurturing of caring, responsible, empathetic and critical-thinking decision-makers? They arrive unfinished, and they leave the system changed in great part by their journey. What happens while they are in our charge is paramount to personal and societal goals. Kirylo’s book proposes a model for purposeful teaching which includes restoration of dignity and authority to the teachers themselves. The school, as a microcosm of society at large, should reflect the very communities we aim to create.

“Teaching with Purpose” will be of interest to educators, parents and other primary stakeholders. This is no attempt to cast out demons, but rather a reimagining of healthy, caring school communities. Decision-makers must work toward restoring integrity to the classroom for both teacher and learner — recognizing the importance of cultivating cooperation and respect throughout the school community.

Dixon Hearne, Ph.D., is author of “Teaching Second-language Learners with Learning Disabilities,” several book chapters and is editorial board member/reviewer for several education journals. His website is dixonhearne.com.