A talented teacher tells all—though not every impression we leave class with may have been in the lesson plan.

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LETTERS TO A TEACHER

An eclectic, uneven collection of ten essays recast as letters addressed to veteran and beginning teachers.

The essay is Pickering’s (English/Univ. of Connecticut) favored genre, and this offering, like his others (A Little Fling, 1999, etc.), shows both his strengths and weaknesses (as writer and as teacher). Dead Poets Society, Peter Weir’s 1989 film about an unconventional English teacher, was based, in part, on the screenwriter’s memories of Pickering’s classes, and Pickering tells us that he has found it “impossible” to escape the umbrella of that film (yet—and here’s the rub—he also opens that umbrella in many of these pieces). The essays mix advice, anecdote, criticism, memoir, silliness, poignancy, pomposity and platitude. At times, they also read like journal observations, stitched together with the threads of illustration and rumination. Generally, the topic sentence reigns. “A teacher must be patient and incredibly flexible,” Pickering observes atop one paragraph, then muses below about inflexible schools, quotes a friend named Josh, ends with a Palestinian parable—thus exemplifying the predominant pattern. Sometimes the writer’s observations have the sharp edge of truth (“If you are unable to live in a compromised world, you should not teach”), but elsewhere his maxims are really a thin glaze on ordinary donuts. Pickering is playful, in teaching and in writing, and he relates some amusing encounters with grade-grubbing students, angry parents, dim-witted and unsmiling bureaucrats. But he also tells (with some evident pleasure) about times when he intentionally deceived folks, à la Loki and Huck Finn (writing and sending bogus crank letters, for example). He seems unaware that this sort of thing can compromise his credibility as a writer—and teacher—as it becomes fair to ask: Are his anecdotes here real? Or did he fabricate them to foment something?

A talented teacher tells all—though not every impression we leave class with may have been in the lesson plan.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-87113-699-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2004

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THE ABOLITION OF MAN

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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Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.

COLUMBINE

Comprehensive, myth-busting examination of the Colorado high-school massacre.

“We remember Columbine as a pair of outcast Goths from the Trench Coat Mafia snapping and tearing through their high school hunting down jocks to settle a long-running feud. Almost none of that happened,” writes Cullen, a Denver-based journalist who has spent the past ten years investigating the 1999 attack. In fact, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold conceived of their act not as a targeted school shooting but as an elaborate three-part act of terrorism. First, propane bombs planted in the cafeteria would erupt during lunchtime, indiscriminately slaughtering hundreds of students. The killers, positioned outside the school’s main entrance, would then mow down fleeing survivors. Finally, after the media and rescue workers had arrived, timed bombs in the killers’ cars would explode, wiping out hundreds more. It was only when the bombs in the cafeteria failed to detonate that the killers entered the high school with sawed-off shotguns blazing. Drawing on a wealth of journals, videotapes, police reports and personal interviews, Cullen sketches multifaceted portraits of the killers and the surviving community. He portrays Harris as a calculating, egocentric psychopath, someone who labeled his journal “The Book of God” and harbored fantasies of exterminating the entire human race. In contrast, Klebold was a suicidal depressive, prone to fits of rage and extreme self-loathing. Together they forged a combustible and unequal alliance, with Harris channeling Klebold’s frustration and anger into his sadistic plans. The unnerving narrative is too often undermined by the author’s distracting tendency to weave the killers’ expressions into his sentences—for example, “The boys were shooting off their pipe bombs by then, and, man, were those things badass.” Cullen is better at depicting the attack’s aftermath. Poignant sections devoted to the survivors probe the myriad ways that individuals cope with grief and struggle to interpret and make sense of tragedy.

Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.

Pub Date: April 6, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-54693-5

Page Count: 406

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2009

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