An affecting (long-exposure) snapshot revealing real-life concerns.

The eminent Maine-based author chronicles his lively, maddening month substitute teaching in the local public schools.

An award-winning author of both fiction and nonfiction, Baker (Traveling Sprinkler, 2013, etc.) subbed mostly in the public schools of Lasswell, Maine, near his home over the course of 28 days scattered between March and June 2014. Reading this day-by-day record—the author substitute taught for classes ranging from first grade to special-education high school math—readers will be struck by how arduous it is simply to fill such long days for the young students. Baker’s “training” was mostly a brief course in learning “codes of cooperation” and Common Core standards, abbreviations for learning disabilities, and clues how to control a class (he did not require a special degree for substitute teaching). He had to pay $50 for a criminal background check and fingerprinting and would earn $70 per day subbing, boosted by $5 for taking the initial training course. His book is literally a record of those 28 days, with verbatim conversations (we assume—did he record them? Or re-create them from notes?) that make for an amusing, spontaneous-feeling narrative, from which readers derive a sense of what it was truly like in the classrooms teeming with rowdy, diverse students. Getting the high schoolers to focus—turn off their electronic devices and quit chatting—was the biggest challenge for the older classes, while the younger pupils often moved from one non sequitur to the next. Baker was able to enlist his strengths as a writer to great effect, but he hated the noise level in the classes and the requirements to follow senseless make-work plans that bludgeoned the students’ creativity and spontaneity. Ultimately, the author’s chronicle is insightful but overly long and occasionally repetitive—indeed, Baker has left a record of what filling up days in school actually looks like.

An affecting (long-exposure) snapshot revealing real-life concerns.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16098-1

Page Count: 736

Publisher: Blue Rider Press

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016




American schools at every level, from kindergarten to postgraduate programs, have substituted ideological indoctrination for education, charges conservative think-tanker Sowell (Senior Fellow/Hoover Institution; Preferential Polices, 1990, etc.) in this aggressive attack on the contemporary educational establishment. Sowell's quarrel with "values clarification" programs (like sex education, death-sensitizing, and antiwar "brainwashing") isn't that he disagrees with their positions but, rather, that they divert time and resources from the kind of training in intellectual analysis that makes students capable of reasoning for themselves. Contending that the values clarification programs inspired by his archvillain, psychotherapist Carl Rogers, actually inculcate values confusion, Sowell argues that the universal demand for relevance and sensitivity to the whole student has led public schools to abdicate their responsibility to such educational ideals as experience and maturity. On the subject of higher education, Sowell moves to more familiar ground, ascribing the declining quality of classroom instruction to the insatiable appetite of tangentially related research budgets and bloated athletic programs (to which an entire chapter, largely irrelevant to the book's broader argument, is devoted). The evidence offered for these propositions isn't likely to change many minds, since it's so inveterately anecdotal (for example, a call for more stringent curriculum requirements is bolstered by the news that Brooke Shields graduated from Princeton without taking any courses in economics, math, biology, chemistry, history, sociology, or government) and injudiciously applied (Sowell's dismissal of student evaluations as responsible data in judging a professor's classroom performance immediately follows his use of comments from student evaluations to document the general inadequacy of college teaching). All in all, the details of Sowell's indictment—that not only can't Johnny think, but "Johnny doesn't know what thinking is"—are more entertaining than persuasive or new.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 1993

ISBN: 0-02-930330-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1992



The sub-title of this book is "Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools." But one finds in it little about education, and less about the teaching of English. Nor is this volume a defense of the Christian faith similar to other books from the pen of C. S. Lewis. The three lectures comprising the book are rather rambling talks about life and literature and philosophy. Those who have come to expect from Lewis penetrating satire and a subtle sense of humor, used to buttress a real Christian faith, will be disappointed.

Pub Date: April 8, 1947

ISBN: 1609421477

Page Count: -

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1947

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