In school: our kids, our teachers, our classrooms

Front Cover
McClelland & Stewart, Aug 31, 1996 - Education - 282 pages
Everyone talks about our schools. Newspaper editorials worry about slipping educational standards. Business complains about poor training for the work force. Television programs talk about violence in school halls. Educational reports study problems and issue strategic documents. Parents attend parent-teacher interviews twice a year. Yet nobody – except for the teachers and the kids – seems to know what really goes on there. Ken Dryden decided to find out. From September 1993 until June 1994, he attended a high school, folding his 6'4" frame as inconspicuously as possible into a seat at the back of the room, moving from class to class when the bell rang. He watched, while everyone got used to his presence, and he took notes. The result is a documentary about the life of a typical Canadian school – in this case a Mississauga, Ontario, high school with a wide range of students drawn from sixty countries. We follow a number of these students, getting to know a dozen of them well, and we follow half a dozen teachers, including the principal. We see the ups and downs in the students’ academic lives, and – like the teachers – we understand much more when the parents come for interviews. We come to care for all of them and understand better a system that can only punish kids who skip class by suspending them, and that can’t fire bad teachers. We are taken inside the teachers’ world, too. We follow them as they prepare for class, watch them teach, sympathize when they lose their temper at someone who strolls in fifteen minutes late, or when they have to give a student who really tried hard a mark of zero. The book clearly demonstrates that our schools are different than we think, and prone to suffer from the world’s problems and complications. Homework stands no chance set against the fast money of an evening job. But, as always, teachers do well teaching kids like them who want to learn – and not so well with the average kids, the ones beyond the front row. In this intimate look at the way a school really works, Ken Dryden tackles what he sees as the education debate’s retreat to a safe, unthinking – and ultimately useless – black and white ground of issues and policies at the expense of people. Ultimately he discovers that good teachers teach people and not just subjects. As gripping as a fine novel,In Schoolis an exciting achievement – a thought-provoking look at our schools and our society, and at how we can make them better.

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