Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education


Date of this Version

February 2004


Published in MIND. CULTURE. AND ACTIVITY, 11(2), 163-165. Copyright ® 2004, Regents of the University of California on behalf of the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition. Used by permission.


Martin Packer's book, Changing Classes: School Reform and the New Economy, is humane, straightforward, and accessible. It is also important, but perhaps not mainly for the reasons that one might infer from its title or its inclusion in Cambridge University Press's series, "Learning in Doing: Social, Cognitive, and Computational Perspectives." Although this book will be of interest to those interested in situated cognition, cultural-historical theory, and cultural psychology—three domains in which Packer overtly locates his book (p. 7)—it does not explicitly advance any of these areas. Indeed, Packer notes (p. 8) his "downplay of theoretical discourse," and the book includes endnotes but no bibliography and no extended discussion of any of these theoretical areas. Instead, this poignant depiction of two reform initiatives concurrently in play in the Willow Run Michigan public schools in the early and mid-1990s will be most relevant to those interested in whole-school and systemic reform. It should also be read by those concerned with developing new genres of educational research representation that are simultaneously more accessible to a range of interested readers and more respectful of the research subjects. The volume does contribute to the three theoretical domains Packer identifies, but it accomplishes more within the two domains I am noting. The book also usefully considers how students' attitudes toward school influence their behavior.