Transforming the School and Workplace through Deep Respect and Courage

Non-Fiction - Education
304 Pages
Reviewed on 04/30/2009
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Anne Boling for Readers' Favorite

As a former teacher, I applaud Jack Bender for his book Disregarded.  The atmosphere in one particular school was disheartening.  It was a “me against the world attitude.”  An “I’ll get you before you get me stance.”  Of course it was not all the faculty--just the majority.  The attitude was rooted in administration’s attitude.

Bender deftly shares his story with readers.  His journey into change came about through a change of legislature.  The goal was to give teachers more of a voice in how the school ran.  Through a series of actions, Bender sees a personal change within himself.  He attended a retreat, Courage To Teach.  This single event had the most profound effect on him.  It brought him serenity and a new understanding of his work environment.  As he changed, others around him began to change.

Bender utilizes humor as he tells his story.  He has an amazing talent for drawing readers in and holding their attention.  Administration, management, and all employees would benefit from reading Disregarded.

Jennifer Russell

This book grabbed me. While Disregarded is one man's intimate account of experiences at the bottom of the organization, I was able to relate throughout. By the end, the author had helped me understand my own work experience in much greater depth. That was worth the price of the book. But there's more.

The author attends a series of retreats called The Courage to Teach. He somehow captures the wisdom that emanates from its leader, Parker J. Palmer. Life lessons abound. Memorable quotes grace countless pages. I began to turn down the corners or place post-its on pages that contained points I especially liked. It became laughable. As I progressed through the book, I realized that I was developing a picture of how personal transformation can take place.

Bender has a gift for connecting dots. There are elements of spirituality, sociology, psychology and organizational development that, when combined, make for a powerful experience. I came to appreciate with increasing clarity the tension created by the collision of the individual and the organization.

Reading like a novel, the author deftly manages to keep the story going while providing a great deal of useful information about personal growth, community and organizational dynamics. Can transformed individuals transform organizations? Through Bender's openness and vulnerability I am invited to meet another soul and then, somehow, encouraged to examine my own.

Because this book offers so much, it deserves a second reading. There are endnotes and a bibliography that provide a starting place for further exploration. Disregarded details an amazing journey that will resonate with others.

Carol J. Vandergiff

Bender is a public school teacher and he endures the wounds of his workplace while trying to understand why relationships at work can turn sour and how strong bonds could be formed instead. The title, Disregarded, comes from the deaf ears and aggression leaders aim at Bender. One comes away with the impression that schools are stuck because school leaders are keepers of the system--not change agents that we assume them to be.

Tales of conflict abound, but the foundation of his story is personal growth and its potential for personal and organizational effectiveness. When true identity is discovered, one has "ground on which to stand." That knowledge creates a confidence and courage that overcomes isolation and disconnection so frequently experienced in the workplace. Critical conversations, appropriate forms of community and organizational efficacy result when renewed workers turn toward each other. The responsibility and means to grow should not be left to the individual. Much more of an organization's resources should be focused on helping its members transform.

Chapter 1 gives us a flavor of what the author's work experience is like. In Chapter 2 Bender becomes a member of the pilot of The Courage to Teach retreat program. Five chapters are devoted to what transpires on those retreats, giving us a tangible picture of how organizations could go about drawing out the personal identities and innate motivations of its members. Bender carefully records the work of author and activist Parker J. Palmer who is the leader of the retreats. Palmer speaks with authority and is masterful in his ability to help participants become reflective and intentional. Those interested in self-help, personal growth, psychology and spirituality will not be disappointed.

I particularly liked Chapter 9, which chronicles clandestine meetings of a small group of teachers considering how to unite their colleagues, work alongside administrators and initiate truth telling without blame.

In Chapters 13 and 14 Bender travels to Pendle Hill, a Quaker community near Philadelphia. His quest is to glean how this community has sustained itself for 75 years. What could he take back to his workplace? The book's subtitle captures what he found--an unusual commitment to remain open to another person, no matter how challenging that other might be.

The final two chapters stress that "collegiality," the sharing of one's craft with other workers, is the behavior most linked to organizational success. Bender connects personal growth to communal norms and community to collegiality. The organization's willingness to invest in its people individually pays off collectively.

Bender summarizes what went wrong in his workplace. "We have been afraid." This is a simple, but profound conclusion. Self-defeating behaviors, projection and scapegoating have had as their source the unacknowledged existential concerns of the players. His other conclusion--"we had no other way to be." The culture offered no alternatives to the flawed office dynamics described. It is Bender who has experienced a healthy alternative in the Courage to Teach program and who is compelled to suggest that similar programs hold great promise for individual and organization renewal alike.

Disregarded reads like a novel, but it's filled with many useful, transferable concepts. Readers frustrated with the current state of their workplace will be able to envision a New Jerusalem.

Katherine Ragains

This book reads first as a mystery, then as a drama, then as a total reality check. Any experienced teacher will quickly recognize the situation the author is in and the struggles he meets in trying to make the public school a better place for kids, teachers and administrators.

As in real life, there are no true winners, but Jack Bender's book IS a winner. I highly recommend every new and every experienced teacher read this book and pass it on to others. It is only through shedding light on what happens behind the scenes in education that we can truly improve the workplace.

Jack's efforts to make a better place for all of us is not only touching, it is enlightening.

Tucker Manning

Whether you are a student of conflict and want to gain insight into its mysterious innerworkings or simply want a fascinating read on one man's journey through personal conflict, Jack H. Bender's "Disregarded" will not disappoint.

The subject matter of this recently published work was of keen interest to me as a mediator. I blithely picked it up with the intention of breezing through in order to gain a little more perspective on this aspect of human nature and the conflict we engender by virtue of being human.

I got much more. I was presented with a book that immediately earned a place in the "classic" section of my personal library, and a book that has been marked up, read, re-read, shared and used as a springboard for further reading, reflection and knowledge.

Bender has written a multi-layered book with two seamlessly interwoven narrative lines. As he unwinds his personal journey through a series of retreats called the Courage to Teach, he also relates how the conflicts in his professional life collide with the teachings of those retreats. Life imitates art, indeed.

Each chapter's story contains a wealth of topics that suggest further exploration for the reader from a wide cross-section of disciplines: philosophy, spirituality, psychology, peacemaking and conflict, power, family, stress, relationships... Even in writing this I feel I have left something out, and yet the book advances effortlessly while tying the threads into a thoughtful package.

There are meticulous references in each chapter as well as a bibliography that could easily serve as the syllabus for a course on human nature and conflict.

I highly recommend "Disregarded;" it is not only a comprehensive discussion on human conflict, but also a memoir of courage and heart.

D. Brighton

Bender's journey of personal growth, chronicled with both setbacks and triumphs, is truly an inspiration. Disregarded is a powerful yet readable narrative that will fill the reader with hope.

Lisa D. Smith

A must read. Humor is great throughout. Great sentence Structure. Everyone must read this book.

Dale Working

You have probably read enough of the previous reviews to grasp the content of Bender's book, Disregarded. However, if you also want to occasionally laugh, shed a few tears, and constantly search your soul, don't wait any longer to read this book. Fantastic reading!

Susan J. Harring

When I think of social justice I usually think of racial discrimination or ignoring the poor. Disregarded vividly points out that a strong, top-down management style severely encroaches on civil liberties, self-expression and meaning for workers, even middle class and above.

Leaders of hierarchies are in a tough spot. To create more effective organizations, they would have to relinquish control. But, to give up control is to commit a cardinal sin. Those at the bottom, those being disregarded, are in the best position to force a change for the better. Courage and solidarity are needed, but how can those traits be developed? Bender outlines one such path, a path toward authenticity. Authentic individuals find intolerable the encroachment on dignity and meaning, so much so as to seek justice for themselves and others.

This book covers a lot of ground. A reader could enjoy it from following a variety of threads-- education, business, sociology, psychology and spirituality. While it could pass for fiction, Bender slips in a great deal of useful information. The chapter notes and bibliography could be used to dig deeper and follow the various paths he has taken to reach his conclusions. Disregarded contains a nice balance of story and information.

Connie L. Corriveau

Disregarded is Bender's intimate account of personal transformation, a subject of interest to all of us. The path of his transformation centers around a series of reflective retreats conducted by Parker J. Palmer (The Courage to Teach). While his journey of self-discovery is wonderfully instructive, he also sets out to discover what is causing the conflicted relationships at his workplace. Written like fiction, we are willingly and unknowingly drawn into the classic sociological topic of "agency versus structure" (man versus organization). By tale's end, Bender has developed a vision that transformed people can transform the organization. No matter how organizational change is attempted, it will be more successful with authentic individuals as participants.

Anyone suffering at work will be encouraged to know that personal renewal can take place regardless of the environlment in which one works. Bender's examination of why his retreat community falls together while his school community falls apart reveals that inner peace can emerge in the midst of pain, ocntradictions, and confusion--the ultimate paradox.

Kelli Nina Perkins

When our true selves and the lives we are actually living are at odds, it takes a toll on our being. Yet, it often requires a personal crisis to recognize that we are out of synch with our values and beliefs. "Disregarded" is a morality tale about the importance of authenticity in our work lives and our personal lives. Mr. Bender speaks eloquently for all of us yearning to exercise our unique gifts. This should be required reading for anyone toiling in the educational system today. His story is rich with insight gleaned from an extensive bibliography and Bender has extracted the kernel of truth from a variety of philosophies, including leadership theory, social science, spirituality and literature. An engaging reevaluation of what it means to be disregarded and how we can rise above situations to reclaim our dignity and forge a work of value.