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Among Schoolchildren Paperback – September 1, 1990
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“Among School Children is more than a book about needy children and a valiant teacher; it is full of the author’s genuine love, delight and celebration of the human condition.” —New York Times Book Review
Tracy Kidder—the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Soul of a New Machine and the extraordinary national bestseller House—spent nine months in Mrs. Zajac's fifth-grade classroom in the depressed "Flats" of Holyoke, Massachusetts. For an entire year he lived among twenty schoolchildren and their indomitable, compassionate teacher—sharing their joys, their catastrophes, and their small but essential triumphs.
As a result, he has written a revealing, remarkably poignant account of education in America.
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"Kidder's close observations tie us into the emotional networks that make up classroom life. . . . A wonderful, compassionate book about teaching." — Chicago Tribune
“Among School Children is more than a book about needy children and a valiant teacher; it is full of the author’s genuine love, delight and celebration of the human condition. He has never used his talent so well.” — New York Times Book Review
"Kidder brilliantly illuminates the reasons for hope and the reasons for despair that sit side by side, or share a desk, in schoolrooms across the nation." — Newsday
"Splendid. . . smooth, informal, extraordinarily readable. . . . A book as exciting as it is eye-opening." — Chicago Sun-Times
"Erupts with passionate life." — USA Today
- Publisher : Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (September 1, 1990)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 352 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0380710897
- ISBN-13 : 978-0380710898
- Item Weight : 9.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.25 x 0.79 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #222,950 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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It is about a fifth grade school teacher who puts the lie to every politician who says public schools stink. Those folk invoke let's privatize and voucher our way to the true American exceptionalism--a word these boobs coined that sounded like it meant something.
Taken a step further Christine's work might drive a stake in the free marketer's heart--the pol who is trying very effectively to convince people that money for a public water source should be given to folks who want to buy theirs bottled.
So many of these pols went to private schools and want the money their folks paid in tuition plus taxes lessened by vouchers--given to them so the tuition they are spending on their own kids is refunded by their own and other peoples' taxes. OK, so rise up, ye masses ....etc.
Back to Christine. She demonstrates a truth most elementary teachers miss because they are selfless and work so hard. I refer to the inversion of attention or respect. Elementary teachers think Middle School better teachers, MS teachers think HS teachers are better, HS teachers think University Profs are better, and University Prof's envy the guys who teach grad course. If there was ever a model of appreciation inserting an understanding of merit up a rising colon, it is teaching.
Best teachers can appear anywhere, at any level, forget distinction between teacher, instructor, prof or just doc. Elementary teachers are the best teachers who deal with challenges that would prompt admiration in an air traffic controller working with five screens because the other guys are elsewhere.
Middle School Teachers have to have the patience not just of Job but Jesus when he might have been personally irked at the idiots about to stone somebody. Think of Jesus on a really bad day, when he had a migraine, he was hungry and hot, and a disciple had just said something that showed a complete lack of understanding. Picture that and you have what MS teachers face everyday. They want to teach defined course material in sixty minutes over a 180 day shot, to kids squirrelly and mad with hormones who know the naughty words but have no understanding of how ugly acting on them will be.
Pity both the kid and the MS teacher; it is a horrible span of time.
Middle School teachers think High School teachers are the bomb--they got to be smarter in order to teach high school. This might very well be more luck than anything else. But most people envy those who win a lottery. High school teachers are lucky in having a chance to introduce fairly sane kids to impressive awarenesses and incredible skills and to maybe of love of something beyond the teen's deep love of himself alone.
These possibilities often lost just after kids get their driver's license--a rite of adulthood that dwarfs Jewish ritual or scarification in America.
University teachers are there for two purposes. They produce research that will be read by a small number of specialists who will then write nasty things about the research.
What else would you expect in a world where every piece of research ends with there is a need for more research? Or the prof write research that will fall into the exclusive control of a corporation that funded the research. This is sad because we all get .... because the government doesn't fund research anymore. (Thanks free marketers,)
The other purpose is a beautiful and a heavenly gift--still not a sign of virtue--when Profs are gifted lecturers These guys get to inspire when the student is not hungover and is there regularly because they have the slightest idea what the 'rents are pouring out for tuition.
Anyway, these guys get to ignite a gem-like flame in those present who are conscious.
Way back, in elementary school there was a teacher like Christine who did everything she could match best at every later level way better but who is forgotten because no one holds happy memories of childhood after puberty hits.
People like Christine go unnoted often feel like the cat's breakfast--she is not perfect but is remarkable.
Kidder gifts those teachers with an image of them as a master of masters.
These teachers are great and Kidder shows why.
And I love the Pioneer Valley area of Massachusetts like, a lot. (As, evidently, does Kidder: both "House" and "Home Town" are about the Pioneer Valley and I highly recommend both)
And I love education, like, a lot.
So it's no surprise to me that I am absolutely in love with this book and read it in a day and a half. However, I am surprised that I didn't like it more.
Part of me thinks that Kidder was too ambitious here: by simultaneously observing a classroom and getting inside Chris Zajac's head, he was tasked with understanding the dynamics of fifth graders as well as Ms. Zajac as a teacher. Most of the narrative is from Ms. Zajac's point of view, and while it's neat for a casual reader to sympathize with a fifth grade teacher, for an experienced educator or a reader of education anthropology and sociology, her challenges are nothing new and unusual. What would have been even more intriguing, I think, would have been more about the social dynamics among the students in her class. It sounds like there were a lot of interesting characters, and Kidder certainly is sharp with details on them, but not more. I'm sure he tried, because he's done an excellent job at getting inside the heads of computer engineers, construction workers, policemen, and more in other books.
Secondly, I'm trying to think of what I learned from this book that I didn't know before. Yes, teaching is an enormously stressful job, yes, teachers have to prioritize, multitask, discipline creatively and effectively, and decide when enough's enough. Duh. If education grad school didn't teach you that, I'd recommend asking for a tuition refund.
What is unusual, though, is Ms. Zajac's ability to handle it all with a stern sense of humor and a genuineness, and Kidder does a very good job at letting her teaching quirks shine through.
But again, perhaps somebody who doesn't think about education all day will find this book more enlightening than I did.