A wide-ranging memoir from a veteran high-school teacher, with personal anecdotes and polemics concerning the future of the profession.
The author begins with a reasonable premise: We are all teachers, we are all students. That awareness, he argues, should form the basis of the teacher-student relationship, because all humans, regardless of age, undergo constant change. The successful teacher presents a life, not just a set of facts or compartmentalized knowledge. From the opening pages, the author argues against standardized testing, insisting instead on the importance of process over product. At first, this argument takes the form of random jabs hidden within disclosures about his rejection of his Catholic upbringing, his flirtations with drugs and alcohol and his first sexual experiences. In the closing pages, however, he addresses the issue directly, bemoaning the wrongheaded approaches of administrators and politicians. Paraphrasing William Butler Yeats, he contends that education must be about the lighting of fires, not the filling of buckets. Teachers should not concentrate on cramming facts into the minds of students, facts they often forget as soon as the test is over. Rather, teachers must â€œmake certain every child can think, and think critically.” This organic approach, based on an honest appraisal of life, explains why Henry moves into a confessional mode at times, openly discussing human sexuality, for instance, including his observations on the taboo subject of teacher-student relationships. Henry strikes the most resonant chords in his closing chapters, when he becomes less personal and situates his complaints within a broader context, particularly that of the language that Americans use to describe themselves. There are two Americas, he argues–the idealized one that admits no faults, and a darker one that politicians and the corporate media fail to discuss. If the establishment habitually lies to young people, he says, it’s not surprising that they often dismiss education as boring or irrelevant.
Uneven in tone, but engaging, cogent and persuasive.