Back to Basics

Recently I started reading Jonathan Kozol's Letters to a Young Teacher. I'd tried to read it last year, but found it hit a little too close to home, especially when he was fawning over the first year teacher and I was presiding over total chaos. Now, with a bit more confidence in my own abilities and the past in the past, I'm giving the book a second chance. It's been a really gratifying read so far, as it's reminded me of some essential ideas I'd forgotten in the course of the past year and a half.

Before I started teaching I read Kozol's Savage Inequalities. I figured it was an important book for any teacher going into the Bronx, and once finished realized how right I was. The book, although almost 20 years old, is an impassioned and moving portrait of America's poorest schools and the children who learn in them. Besides bringing me face to face with some of the challenges I would face, the book also sparked a mixture of passion and outrage as well as a sense of purpose.

While Letters is written in the form of well, letters, the substance of Kozol's argument has not changed. It is a welcome reminder for me of the importance of reaching out to my students as whole people, and not collections of data that signify strengths and needs. It is also an important wake-up call that the frustrations and indignations that afflict my students on a daily basis are not ordinary nor acceptable. Finally, it has reaffirmed my belief that education reform must be rooted in an ideology of social justice, because a quality education should be a right for every child in this country.

I don't think I ever really forgot these ideas. However I do believe that in the process of figuring out the practice of teaching, these beliefs that represent the foundation of my educational philosophy were drowned out by daily distractions. I'm glad to have them back in the center of my mind while I'm in the classroom.


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