Skip navigation
College Quarterly
Summer 1995 - Volume 2 Number 4
Rogue Primate: The Skillful Teacher
Stephen D. Brookfield
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1990
Reviewed by W. Richard Bond

There is an interesting preface to this book which has been written very much on a personal note by the author in which he states that the book is, in fact, a survival manual to help college teachers work their ways through the recurring problems and dilemmas they face in their practice.

The author states that the work is grounded in shared experiences through which three leitmotifs dominate; the experiential, the inspirational and the practical. The experiential to draw a truthful picture of teaching from the experiences of teachers; the inspirational to kindle the sense of importance and purpose of college teaching (within this context it is said to be a rejection of theory-based notions that college education may be no more than a response to the demands of capitalism); the practical because he wants to address problems, dilemmas and major demands of college teaching, and analyze them into an informative and helpful book.

Brookfield informs the reader that he has written it as though he were addressing a single person, and provides an overview of the content.

Chapter One discusses experiences in teaching, and also describes how teachers grow into their own truths about college teaching.

Chapter Two identifies the need to clarify the purpose of teaching, the direction of teaching and questions why directions are selected. It further discusses critically responsive teaching.

Chapters Three, Four and Five elaborate further on aspects of critically responsive teaching. They also include how students experience learning, and Brookfield describes what he refers to as rhythms of learning - including ways in which teachers build on and respond to these rhythms. A number of learning techniques are discussed including learning journals, research reports and documentation of how students experience learning.

Adjusting teaching practice to respond to these identified rhythms and the uses and abuses of lecturing form Chapter Six.

Chapters Seven and Eight detail the relevance of discussions, including getting discussions started, ensuring fair discussion and the general management of discussions.

Chapter Nine focuses on simulation and role-playing.

Chapter Ten deals with Evaluation.

Chapter Eleven discusses the students who resist learning.

Chapter Twelve describes teacher credibility, authenticity and trust-building between students and teachers.

Chapter Thirteen details the multiplicity of political issues which the college teacher must encounter and successfully overcome, and the final chapter, Chapter Fourteen elaborates on the notion of the skillful teacher.


It is difficult to comment on this book in any other way than positively because it is filled from end to end with “motherhood” kinds of statements and suggestions. Brookfield says he is offering a survival manual for college teachers, and that's exactly what he does. In fact, the early parts of the book read almost like a course outline, and he has followed his own directions.

Although addressed to post-secondary educators in general, the principles he identifies could apply to any educational setting. His descriptions of survival techniques are thorough indeed.

Drawing upon his personal background (which carries a sense of convincing authenticity) and using information obtained “in the field”, Brookfield gently walks the reader through a whole range of techniques (it's amazing how much he has managed to cram into 233 pages). He speaks as both a teacher and a theorist, although those familiar with his theories on adult education and learning will see Brookfield the teacher as being much more visible than Brookfield the theorist. This is probably the book's great strength and adds much to its common-sense appeal. And frankly, it's a very good “read”.

Without providing much in the way of detail, he alludes to facilitating Critical Thinking, and I suspect he likes to view education as a liberating experience, but perhaps not in quite the same context advocated by neo-Marxist Critical Theorists. This impression is gained, in part, from a comment he makes where he “rejects the pessimism inherent in the reproductionist view that education is wholly determined by, and responsive to, the demands of capitalism”. He also alludes to Reflective practice. This area can be a real minefield and he avoids any serious discussion on Reflection as a technique. Perhaps in this context it might be as well to consider “reflection” as a form of possibly the weakest parts of the book. It almost seems as though they were included because they became current (and remain) hot issues, and that being done, there is no serious attempt to elaborate on them or discuss the remarkable range of application in and implications for practice in education.

Despite these comments, I believe Brookfield's book could be very useful indeed, not just to beginning college teachers, but also to those teachers who have some experience. It is packed with enormously useful tips for novices and sound reminders for the experienced to help them stay “on track”.

W. Richard Bond teaches in the Faculty of Education at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario.