posted February 1, 2001

Book on Learning Project

Dr. David J. Klooster of the Hope
College English faculty and his wife Dr. Patricia L. Bloem
are among the three co-editors of a book that examines an
international effort to use reading and writing to help
students become better democratic citizens.

The book, "Ideas Without Boundaries:
International Education Reform Through Reading and Writing
for Critical Thinking," has been published by the
International Reading Association. Klooster and Bloem, who
is an assistant professor of English education at Grand
Valley State University in Allendale, co-edited the book
with Dr. Jeannie Steele, a member of the faculty at the
University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.

 

"The story this book tells is that students and
teachers who have participated in the program feel that this
is a powerful tool for preparing for democratic life," said
Klooster, who is an associate professor of English at Hope.

 

According to Klooster, the Reading and Writing for
Critical Thinking (RWCT) Project began as educators in the
new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe determined
that their students needed to learn new skills as members of
democratic societies. Through the program, U.S. educators
conduct workshops with teachers in 24 formerly Communist
nations to help them learn how to teach such skills by
creating more democratic classrooms. Such classrooms stress
discussion, debate, cooperative learning and independent
writing assignments.

 

Since the program started in 1997, some 25,000
teachers in 24 countries in Central and Eastern Europe and
Central Asia have participated.

 

Klooster noted that the program doesn't focus on
how to teach politics. Instead, the emphasis is on helping
students learn how to learn. As the book's preface notes,
"the characteristics of students who are successfully engaged in
lifelong learning, as well as the applications of knowledge and understanding to their daily lives and work, parallel those characteristics and behaviors
that sustain a civil and productive democratic society."

 

According to the preface, these characteristics
include "the capacity to listen with caring and respect to
the perspectives and opinions of others; skill in
constructive problem solving; ability to form independent
opinions and to reflect; the capacity to integrate multiple
sources of information; the ability to work collaboratively;
the skills to articulate alternate points of view; and the
recognition of the essential importance of sharing opinions
and participating in the communal construction of knowledge,
understanding and governance."

 

For Klooster, the project has provided an
opportunity to link multiple personal and professional
interests. Prior to joining the Hope faculty this fall, he
was a member of the English faculty at John Carroll
University in Ohio, where his responsibilities included
directing the writing program for 11 years. During the
1992-93 school year, was a Fulbright Lecturer in American
literature at Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia.
The country was in the early days of its transition from
decades of communist rule.

 

"We developed a real affection for Slovakia," he
said. "It was a rewarding year, and we felt privileged to
be there at such a historic time."

 

When they learned about the Reading and Writing
for Critical Thinking Project, he and Bloem volunteered
immediately. They worked in the Czech Republic initially.
Since last year, Klooster has also been working with
teachers in Armenia. Klooster visited the country this past
November and December, and will return during Hope's spring
break in March.

 

The book reviews the content, approach and origins
of the project, and features insights from educators
concerning the program's impact. U.S. educators and the
teachers with whom they have worked abroad co-authored
several of the chapters.

 

Klooster took on co-editing the book because he
thought that the successful program's story deserved to be
told. For his own part, he has developed a greater
appreciation for how much impact education can have, not
only individually, but collectively.

"This project has helped me to see that education
is instrumental in forming the kind of culture that a
society aspires to be," he said. "In the States, we usually
emphasize that education is first of all about individual
development. This program has helped me to take a larger
view."