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Monday, May 13, 2013

Review: Saving the School by Michael Brick

Saving the School: 
The True Story of a Principal, a Teacher, a Coach, a Bunch of Kids, and a Year in the Crosshairs of Education Reform  
Michael Brick  
Penguin Group (USA)

Thankfully, apart from little jabs, Michael Brick has no ax to grind except to present men and women who are trying to better the education of young men and women and instill in them a sense of pride.  Brick, a reporter for the New York Times, embedded himself in the school to find out what it takes to make changes.

The main players in saving Reagan High School include Superintendent Anabel Garza, who tells the students she and the teachers love the students.  She had had a teenage pregnancy herself, so she knows some of the hazards these students deal with.  She faces an uphill battle even getting kids to attend school.

Candice Kaiser is the new-ish chemistry teacher, who inspires students with her trip to Africa.  She plays clips of herself with the kids in Africa who would love to have the educational opportunities they have (bonus points for Kaiser).  She even organizes a group to raise for these students to make the same trip to Africa.

JaQuarius Daniels is the star quarterback and basketball, having signed a scholarship with Iowa State, who will lead his classmates and fellow ball players to more responsible behavior.  His coach, Derrick, studies the same game book yet must milk the best out of his players in order to beat their arch-rival.

This reviewer at the Daily Beast had problems with the Christianity of Candice (my understanding was that these interactions were outside school, so no problem here) and with the detailed basketball games.  I, too, as a teacher, was more interested in what steps the teachers were taking to improve the students education.  Since Brick is not an educator, these details probably passed him by.  But it is a mistake to think that sports are not related to education.  They should piggyback off one another.  Sports are a microcosm of education:  One invests time and sees the outcome of that investment on the court, field, or pool.  Likewise, one invests in education for longer term dividends.  I'm not sure why this metaphor isn't deployed more often.

What is missing?  As a classroom teacher, I'd love to hear the stories of students who made small triumphs:  The students who were certain they would fail, but working with them changed their minds (unfortunately, it takes a lot of work to turn around a mind set:  many sessions).  But what are some of the ways teachers used to turn attitudes around?  If we are to go solely by the text, simply teachers saying that they care and that government will close them is what turned the tide.  Possibly.  But I suspect an array of methods were deployed, methods that had to be refashioned every few weeks as students became inured to their power.

Still, it's book of educational inspiration, one for educators to pick up when they feel disenchanted and desire to see other success stories.  Perhaps it will inspire a new generation of teachers--especially in high-need areas.

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