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BLACKBOARD by Lewis Buzbee


A Personal History of the Classroom

by Lewis Buzbee

Pub Date: Aug. 5th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-55597-683-5
Publisher: Graywolf

Elevating the thinking around school improvements, from the nuts-and-bolts ideas to a broader view.

Most parents, teachers and others involved in the education of children and teens would agree that nearly every school could use improvement in certain areas. There are, of course, dozens of useful books on the education shelf, but Buzbee (The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History, 2006, etc.) provides a bracing rejoinder to the didactic, data-driven books from policy gurus and social scientists. Where other authors draw on research studies and have specific case studies that serve as the frosting on the cake, the author starts from his own experience and leapfrogs back in time to explore various educational practices and their origins. The blackboard itself was invented back in 1800. Students were using their portable blackboards to practice writing and arithmetic in school and at home when George Baron thought to connect a series of them on the wall to teach broader and more complex formulas to a larger audience of students. Buzbee writes of the different views of the teacher in the front, from the “lecturing chalk-and-talk” droners who fail to reach students to those who serve as “a lens through which the lesson is created and clarified.” From the layout of schools to the distinction between “middle school” and “junior high school,” Buzbee spreads engaging prose across the pages, providing both a reminiscence of better days and a considered examination of the assumptions we all make about what does—and does not—constitute a quality education. In the epilogue, he offers a series of proposals, noting the importance of raising teacher salaries—and yes, even if that means raising taxes. “And to prove my seriousness, let me be the one to say it first,” he writes. “You may read my lips: Raise my taxes! can raise my taxes through the roof…raise them to Swedish levels, to ‘socialist’ levels.”

Both personal and historical, this is a welcome book on the importance of education for all.