A debut comic novel that parodies the labyrinthine bureaucracy of the public school system.
After finishing a graduate school degree program in law and business at Eastern Oregon University, Greg Samson finds himself without any promising employment prospects. However, his best friend, Randy Smith, is the athletic director at Shadowcliff High School in Sweetwater, Arizona, and he helps him find a job as a track coach there. Greg also ends up teaching English and video-production classes and becomes the supervisor for both the yearbook and the business education program. He quickly learns that the world of public education is a well-intentioned but self-destructively incompetent one, full of bureaucratic absurdity. The school’s principal, Connie Rumsford, seems committed to fostering a culture of “compliance and submission,” treating students and their parents as clients to be indulged at the expense of real education. Rumsford also obsessively quotes “master teacher” Elden Ray Fong on issues from pedagogy to sound sleeping habits—a reflection of the fashionable obsession with academic theory. Greg is largely a cheerful idealist and manages to become an effective teacher, but he finds that real progress is thwarted at every turn; he works inside a system that’s designed to produce a veneer of success—one that’s measurable in quantitative terms but ignores actual learning. Debut author Prather has a real talent for comedic writing, and he possesses a deep knowledge of the obstacles that public education faces today, including those created by overzealous parents. At one point, for example, Rumsford refuses to let Greg fail a student for cheating for fear of legal action from the teen’s father and even demands that Greg write the offending student a letter of apology. Prather is clearly influenced by Franz Kafka’s work—Greg’s name, for example, is obviously inspired by that of the main character of The Metamorphosis, and he teaches Kafka to his Advanced Placement students—and he follows that author’s footsteps in ably lampooning technocratic hubris. Problematically, though, his wonderfully rich characters aren’t provided much of a plot; instead, the story meanders somewhat aimlessly at far too great a length.
An often hilarious and astute, if overlong, satire.