Book by Michael Newman
Review by Laurie J. Nelson
College of Business Administration
Northeastern University
Boston, MA

Most educators have encountered students or colleagues who exhibit the “independence of spirit and distrust of authority” (p. 21) that typify rebelliousness.  Some educators even consider themselves rebels.  But “if we are to turn rebelliousness into defiance, we need to instill purpose into it.  We may be rebellious by nature, culture, or inclination, but we have to choose to be defiant” (p. 61).  Newman’s book offers a broad overview of how rebelliousness can be transformed into defiance.  He urges that defiance ought to be a lifestyle, not a situational action.  Accordingly, he encourages educators to help students learn how to take critical thinking one step further by habitually challenging authority and norms.  

One central idea is that activist educators can “help people learn how to defy others who might be laying out unwanted futures for them” (p. 11).  The concept of “defiance” has implications for advisor/student, advisor/colleague, and advisor/institution relationships.  Parents and peers often persuade students to follow certain paths; developmental advisors should be supportive in helping students to identify external pressures and internal desires, deconstruct them, and then pursue their own passions.  For advisors themselves, Newman’s suggestions for enacting defiance may come in handy in cases where advisors are lobbying for recognition or change within their office or their institution.  

Teaching Defiance can be considered “global” in two senses: it is internationally focused, and it is fairly wide-ranging in that it refers to Newman’s own research and experiences within and beyond the field of adult education.  These characteristics serve to emphasize one of the foundations on which Newman’s work is based, that we all live within a broader context.  Within this context, individuals can analyze their own values and assumptions and make choices accordingly.  

The global nature of the book has both pros and cons.  Anecdotes from around the world acknowledge an increasingly international environment.  Newman’s book is rarely boring, although it can seem a little scattered as it leaps from personal accounts to history to theory and back again.  It is worth noting that most of the book deals with continuing education and formal presentation settings, e.g workshops and trade union training sessions, which may be difficult to adapt for the responsibilities of the majority of undergraduate advisors.  Likewise, a significant portion of the book addressing group action and negotiation is not particularly helpful for advisors—rarely (perhaps too rarely) are advisors in a situation where collective action is called for, appropriate, or effective.  

Disappointingly, Teaching Defiance is heavier on stories than strategies; in fact, strategies for teaching defiance were scarce.  Newman briefly touches on the importance of using narrative to illustrate a point.  In addition, he presents a simple method of problem-solving, involving asking and answering three questions (What’s wrong?  What can we do?  What will we do?), which can help clarify a situation by identifying issues, outlining options, and forming a plan of action.  Aside from these elements, however, few practical applications or techniques were offered.  For this reason, advisors may find Teaching Defiance to be a less valuable resource than they might hope.

Newman, M.  (2006). Teaching Defiance: Stories and strategies for activist educators.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Teaching Defiance: Stories and strategies for activist educators. (2006). Book by Michael Newman. Review by Laurie J. Nelson. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 295 pp.  ISBN # 0-7879-8556-2
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