A dedicated teacher sends a valentine to some charming students—and to himself.

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I AM A PENCIL

A TEACHER, HIS KIDS, AND THEIR WORLD OF STORIES

Children’s author Swope (The Krazees, 1997, etc.) chronicles his three years conducting writing workshops with a group of elementary-school students in Queens.

Although this is a throwback to those teaching memoirs that proliferated in the 1960s and ’70s by John Holt, Herbert Kohl, et al., the author seems unaware of these ancestors in his generally blithe and often self-flattering report from the front lines of American urban education. After falling in love with the third-graders in what was supposed to be a ten-day workshop and continuing to work with them through fifth grade, Swope does his best to battle the organizational demons that rule his new world: bureaucracy, burnt-out or incompetent teachers, parents who seem to have no aspirations for their children, and youngsters who cannot make themselves behave in ways beneficial to them. Following his first year with a classroom teacher he really admired, he found himself working with colleagues he did not completely respect; the kids’ fourth-grade teacher in particular comes off as dim and dysfunctional. (The author has changed all the students’ and teachers’ names.) Swope had great advantages denied to classroom teachers: he met privately with individuals and small groups; he worked with a principal who supported his efforts to take students on frequent field trips; he was free to create nontraditional projects that caught the youngsters’ attention and earned their affection. (Two long-term activities on islands and trees were especially engaging.) The novice instructor became deeply involved in his students’ lives. He interviewed and visited their parents, helped the kids apply to magnet middle schools, talked with them on the phone, discussed with them the intimacies of their lives. Some produced good writing; others managed only drivel. Swope’s tale is occasionally vitiated by his need to tell us how wonderful he is when a simple recounting of his deeds would have sufficed.

A dedicated teacher sends a valentine to some charming students—and to himself.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2004

ISBN: 0-8050-7334-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 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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