Brief Intervals of Horrible Sanity: One Season in a Progressive School

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J.P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2003 - Biography & Autobiography - 328 pages
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The acerbically humorous account of one teacher's experience at an idealistic "New Visions" high school in Queens, New York.

In response to plummeting test scores and a soaring drop-out rate, in April 1992, the New York City Board of Education established several New Visions schools, including the School of the New Millennium in Queens, New York. Created with hope and high ideals, New Millennium was to be a place where teachers and students would treat each other like family members, where no child would be lost or left behind.

This is the story of how that idealism failed.

Elizabeth Gold came to work at New Millennium as a mid-year replacement for a teacher who had suffered a nervous breakdown. Over the course of four months, her classroom nearly defeated her too. "Our goal was not simply to graduate students but to transform them into loving, compassionate Leaders of Tomorrow," she writes. "Though I never figured out how to do it, I did suspect that cowering behind my desk was not the way."

In Brief Intervals of Horrible Sanity, Gold describes the challenges she and her colleagues faced: no books, a principal not grounded in reality, and a system in which every child-but not every teacher-has a voice. She chronicles her students and how she tried to reach them: disruptive Cindy Fernandez, with a voice that was "part bullhorn and part plaintive baby"; beautiful Sarah Patel, a victim of her classmates' jealousy; and Peter Garcia, a skateboard-loving, Hobbit-reading teenager with an adult-sized sense of honor and self-respect.

At a time when the struggles of the School of the New Millennium are reflected in textbooks and schools across the country, this modern-day Up the Down Staircaseoffers provocative, wildly entertaining insight into what students should learn and what schools should actually be for.

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About the author (2003)

Elizabeth Gold has written for The Washington Post,, and several literary journals. She has held fellowships at Yaddo and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She is a member of the Teachers & Writers Collaborative and teaches writing at several branches of City University.

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