Ilana Garon is clear about one thing; this book is not going to be the “nice white lady” skit from MadTV. She’s not going to sail into the classroom and cure these kids of their hateful outlook the way you see in Freedom Writers and Dangerous Minds. Oh no, nothing here is cured, and there are no triumphant endings. But despite the lack of happy endings, it’s still a lot more upbeat than Death At An Early Age. Therefore, it’s actually a fun read.
Garon’s been teaching since the early 2000’s, right around the time that Bloomberg started chopping up school buildings into “smaller schools” and making a mess of things. She’s in a Bronx high school with all the usual troubles; absenteeism, fights, teen pregnancy, drug use, family violence, emphasis on sports above all else, and worst of all, an incompetent principal. The principal rarely figures into the book, and the cops make constant visits, disturbing the classroom. Life here stinks.
One of the reasons things aren’t worse is that she doesn’t take disobedience as an insult. Too many authority figures get hooked on the idea of everybody doing what they say, without looking for results. She doesn’t take it personally when kids monkey around, jump on desks, eat in class, or use cell phones in class. She also doesn’t accept the “reputations” that precede the kids. If the dean says “there’s a boy coming into your class with a reputation for trouble” she doesn’t turn it into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I would recommend this book to anyone who’s read the Jonothan Kozol books, or any of the more depressing “Blackboard Jungle” type of stuff. I would also recommend it to anyone fooled by those “miracle honky” movies where some great teacher changes the kids. These kids don’t all become great, but a lot of them get into CUNY, some get into upstate colleges on scholarship.