Monday, March 1, 2010

Teaching Books: Letters to a Young Teacher by Jonathan Kozol

[I'm not going to try to review the books I'm reading as part of my transition to becoming an educator. However, I do want to at least do summaries, both for myself and if anyone's interested. Consider these mini-reviews, if you will.]

Long-time education writer Kozol returns to the archaic practice of using letters as a narrative structure for this book. Like C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters, these missives are directed at one person, but really are written to the wide audience Kozol hopes to reach.

In this case, the subject of the letters is a teacher called "Francesca," who is apparently a real person fictionalized to keep her safe from any repercussions. She also incorporates some other points about teaching that Kozol wishes to express to anyone who is starting on their teaching career.

While Francesca is nearly perfect in these letters (Kozol admits in the afterward that he did not focus on her struggles but instead praised her achievements--a teaching technique within a book about teaching, I'm sure), there is a lot of discussion about things that the author feels are not perfect about the education system.

For instance, Kozol praises his model teacher for allowing students the time to experience wonder, but decries the reliance on testing that can put a student on the failure track as early as kindergarten. He has strong words about this, as well as the idea of corporatizing education. Francesca resists these urges and Kozol praises her for this.

Kozol also dislikes the jargonizing of education training, school vouchers, and argues that the American education system is almost as segregated now as it was before Brown. (He even goes so far as to say that the current funding system does not even meet the separate but equal requirements of Plessey v. Ferguson!)

The book features a lot of Kozol arguing against what he dislikes, mixed with stories of what Francesca is doing to combat these issues and his own struggles as a young teacher in the Boston system. However, he also stresses the positives, such as taking the time to get to know the parents of your students, even advocating home visits where possible.

He advocates listening to children and letting them learn, using testing as an opportunity to grow their knowledge, not just a way to ensure scores are meeting political metrics. His final words are to remind teachers that sometimes, they must get political for the sake of their students.

No comments:

Post a Comment