Archives for category: Non-fiction

This is an extremely compelling book. The authors articulate a vision for the use of critical pedagogy in K-12 classrooms in such a way that it is intertwined with the teaching of the skills necessary for students to navigate the world they are simultaneously trying to change. After they present their rationale for critical pedagogy, they provide several good examples of how they’ve executed it. The authors are aware they are standing on the shoulders of others, educators and other sources for inspiration, and they pay them – particularly Freire – the proper tribute. In that way, this is a ‘gateway’ book because reading it will lead you to others. (I’ve already ordered the two books mentioned in the preface.) I appreciated their constant attention that the development of this approach needs to begin in teacher training, and I was thunderstruck with the accuracy of their claim that public education is not failing. It is, they argue, doing exactly what it was designed to do – create a permanent underclass. An invigorating and challenging read – one I’ll keep close at hand.

Duncan-Andrade’s TEDx talk

Duncan-Andrade founded and is currently Board Chair of this school

I said once that if I could just read one author, I’d choose Baldwin because he wrote plays, non-fiction and fiction. Boy, did I underestimate him. There are letters, reviews, forwords and afterwords, letters, etc. in here, and so I am grateful for and grateful that I found this collection.

I think in this era when so many people are being introduced to Baldwin because of his ideas, it can be easy to forget what an amazing writer he is. His sentences are so packed full and syntactically interesting that I read some more than once just to enjoy the sound of  them. At one point, he even mocks himself by calling one of his sentences “undisciplined.” I think it’s the only one.

So read this, both for the urgency of the ideas it contains and to read a master essayist at work.

Oh, and keep a notepad by your side. When Baldwin recommends that you read something, you’re going to want to read it.

It is hard to know the truth of what led to the end of Esquith’s career. A brief Google search indicates that there are almost as many theories as there are websites. I admit, though, that my bias is that “something is rotten” here, and that it’s not Esquith. The book is good. His arrogance shows through often, and he is unsubtle when he criticizes his own administration. Neither of these things probably earned him many friends.

Still, he clearly sacrificed a great deal of time, money and energy to do the best work he could. Some of his reasoning is circular – ‘I think we should study this and therefore we should because I am the arbiter of such things’ – well, then, he’s far from alone.

There is a great deal here to support – that he has very high expectations, is clear. He mocks the errors of his younger teacher self. He realizes the reality of standardized tests and how, in the end, they are so very unimportant.

If he did what he stands accused of doing, then he deserves to end his career in disgrace and to lose his freedom. But if he didn’t, oh, if he didn’t. . .

an account of Esquith’s firing from Diane Ravitch’s blog

Hobart Shakespeareans

Hobart Shakespeareans – Trailer

Teju Cole is, I think, as close to a Renaissance man as I know. The range of allusions in this large collection of short essays is staggering. Naturally, the range of topics is equally wide, focusing (pun intended) on photography. If you know his novel Open City, it will not surprise you to learn that the essays are lyrical, non-linear, observational and insightful. They are, in far too many cases, too short. I know that at least some were lifted from elsewhere. I wish that he’d chosen fewer to include and expanded those that made the cut. The pieces on photography were challenging for me since I don’t really speak that language, and he is only able to include a few of the images in the book itself. I enjoyed the sense of humor that sneaks into a few of these pieces, and I liked traveling with Cole to the places he visits. He is a master at using words to make pictures.

Like others, I think, I’ve paid a great deal of attention to the struggles immigrants face in trying to get here. I’ve even read some about the difficulty that some face getting here, like Enrique’s Journey. But I wanted to understand the “mouth of [the] shark”* that is prompting so many to try to escape Syria. And thanks to Borri, for whom it is very important that she be writing from the heart of the battle, I do. She heaps disdain on those experts (some since discredited) who write about Syria without ever having been in the country. She is told at one point that she could just as easily (and much more safely) write about Syria from Rome. And she admits that journalism is about the right distance and that she may be too close. She also acknowledges that even with Aleppo, it is not possible to understand fully the Syrian experience. She knows she is right, though, that the media, and especially photographers, are key to this story. One girl tells her, “Don’t write useless things.” Another example:

Today is [Ayman Haj Jaaed’s] second day at the front. Write this, he tells me: ‘Assad is at the end of his rope.’ He crosses the street at a run waving his Kalashnikov, shooting as fast as he can. ‘Write, write!’ he yells at me from across the street: ‘Two more months, and Aleppo will be free.’ Only he fired to the left. And the sniper was on his right.

This is in Autumn of 2012. Ayman is 18.

The impression I take away from this book is similar to that moment in Apocalypse Now when the Martin Sheen character asks a soldier who is in charge. The soldier has no idea.  “Who’s the commanding officer here?” “Ain’t you?”

The Syrian situation seems incredibly complex. Most of the rebels are not even Syrian. And there is a great deal of in-fighting among the rebels. No one from the outside knows who to support, especially with Al-Qaeda counting itself among the rebels. In the end, I don’t think Borri blames Obama for not intervening. She has no such forgiveness for NGO’s that don’t show and especially those who collect funds based on a promise they are not fulfilling. It is expensive, Borri reports, to be a refugee.

Borri’s details and insights are as powerful as they are poetic. This is apparently her first book that has been translated into English. I hope the other two find their way into English soon. For the elegance of the language here, at least some of the credit must go to her translator, Anne Milano Appel.

The photographs that inspired Francesca Borri

The White Helmets

The White Helmets: trailer

“Lullaby” (for Dead Syrian Children) by Shalan Alhamwy

from “Home” by Warsan Shire

At times, this book seemed more like an overview of a topic than an argument for any kind of revolution. And Robinson is perhaps a bit too fond of something I’ve noticed in many polished speakers – he reduces things to certain numbers and often uses alliteration (the 5 C’s, for example). Still, there’s much to be learned here, and I was always grateful when Robinson offered the names of other texts to pursue and / or schools / programs to investigate, so I could go into more depth if I wanted to.

It’s hard to imagine at this point who genuinely disagrees with what’s here. I think the two more important questions are how to generate the kind of political will necessary to “scale up” from some of the exemplars Robinson provides and how to manage the transition in the least disruptive way possible.

Ken Robinson’s TED talk

I am kind of a sucker for those newspaper accounts that mark the XX(x)th anniversary of some local event. I’m not sure why – perhaps because there seemed to be so many unanswered questions – I followed up on a story about The Ashtabula Railway-Bridge Accident of 1876 by ordering this collection of articles. And the event, though not charming as the last writer claims, continues to raise questions, not only about why the train crashed, but about decisions made and not made as well as the impact of the tragedy on the community today. The risk, I suppose (I’m not too experienced with local histories), is that not all of the writing will be good. The only essay that is really a bust here is the last one, full of platitudes, an inappropriate tone, and, because of its placement in the collection, little new information. I look forward to a road trip to Ashtabula in order to see things for myself.

image from train crash