- Series: Innovators in Education
- Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Heinemann (April 21, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0867094079
- ISBN-13: 978-0867094077
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,798,023 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Way It Spozed to Be (Innovators in Education)
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Top Customer Reviews
Yes, the book is about a troubled inner city school, yes the author is a first-year teacher who bucks the system, yes he was naive and idealistic, and yes there were and are many books and movies that share these premises, but what sets this book apart is the author's simple humanity and honesty. He knows he will not solve everything. In the epilogue, when he is long elsewhere, he muses sadly that conditions at his first teaching job probably haven't changed.
Also, Mr. Herndon knows that even if he succeeds in getting the kids to sit still long enough to do their expected work, to act the way students are "spozed to act" and conducts classes the way they are "spozed to be conducted," what the students are learning is not a love of learning itself, but rather a perverted desire to be the "way you're spozed to be."
A telling incident: Mr. Herndon sees an art project done by a class of students, mostly if not all African American. Yet the people in the poster are Caucasion. Mr. Herndon asks the art teacher why that is and is told that most of the pictures the students see are people with Caucasions. Even their imagery is the "way it's spozed to be."
This is mild compared to the racism that exists within the student body, based on various shades of skin complexion and the students' features. Add in the merciless teasing doled out to anyone who couldn't read, in some classes, all but a few students, and you have a hotbed of dysfunctional and hyper-critical relationships where learning is nearly impossible.
The author doesn't pretend to understand or solve large-scale economic issues, although he comments objectively that many kids don't have enough money to eat proper lunches but most are willing to buy "tennis," the slang for sneakers. He also doesn't pretend to understand social or familial circumstances, in fact, families are rarely discussed and we see the students in the stark flourescent light seen by Mr. Herndon. He doesn't offer sweeping solutions.
Instead, he walks this dismal territory as a brilliantly perceptive and caring guide, bringing us close to the academically deprived conditions that we know exist, and more than puts a human face on it. He illuminates the psychology of children, concisely and with searing truth. This writer broke down many times, both in the first reading and in many successive ones. He feels the frustration of the children and shares their delights.
At one point the students start a tradition called "slambooks," notebooks in which they essentially write down the often insulting comments about other students and teachers that are anyay expressed verbally. Other teachers confiscate the slambooks, but Mr. Herndon seizes on it as the first sign of hope that the students might begin to understand why we should attempt to articulate concepts on paper.
Another aspect of this book that separates it from many in its genre is that, although Mr. Herndon agrees to accept the students' traditions, he doesn't pretend to take part in them himself in order to become accepted. He still sees the slambooks as insulting and shallow attempts at written expression, but attempts nonetheless.
The essential message of the book is that Mr. Herndon refused to allow status quo, which at the time was sadly this: teachers pass out worksheets, students did not complete them, students pass them in, teachers fail or pass students. Instead, he dared students to find something that no teacher had ever offered them: a reason to actually want to learn.
This was not the "way it's spozed to be," and Mr. Herndon is punished for that.
This book is never heavy, never dull. Some of the short chapters, only a page at times, could serve as small portraits of the "underclass" of America, and on a deeper level, the awful ache everyone has at times that things could be a whole lot better if we only knew what was needed and how to get it.
-Robert Murray Diefendorf, Author of "Release the Butterfly"
The author begins with his first day of school and takes us through the end of the school year at which time he is fired for being incompetent in the eyes of the administrators and other teachers. Chapters are written almost as short essays on a single topic, moving through the school year. Herndon introduces us to his 7th and 8th grade students with humor and sincerity. Many of these children, to my horror and amazement, can't even read their own names let alone anything else. Herndon discusses what school policies are and how other teachers "control" the class by restricting their movement and even in one case, not allowing the children to utter one word to the teacher during class. Absurdities in school policy and administration come through to me very clearly as I read these stories. The style of writing is one of storytelling rather than a book discussing why school reform is needed, but you will clearly come to your own realizations of what the problems are by simply reading these stories.
Half way through the school year, Herndon decides to do whatever it takes to get these children to learn. In some cases he comes up with innovative teaching methods and in other cases he allows the students to find their own way of doing things, and guess, what? Learning happens! Success! Well, the success is in the eyes of the students and in the eyes of this schoolteacher (not in the eyes of the administration). There is mutual respect between students and teacher but the other teachers and administrators think Herndon is an incompetent and that his students are out of control, so they fire him.
I figured out the year was 1959, but this could just as well take place today. Herndon's epilogue, written six years after this year of teaching, is brilliant. This is a short book and an easy read. As you read it your mind will be reeling with emotions and ideas about public/government schooling and who are they really serving?