Sunday, August 5, 2012

Back to School

I went back to work on Wednesday this week. August 1 is incredibly early for teachers and students to go back to school, but I work in a building that has been deemed Persisently Low Achieving by our government because of test scores.  The extra days they have added to our contract is supposed to help student achievement.
I have read Jonathan Kozol's books before, and enjoyed all of them, but now that I teach in a culturally diverse school with a free and reduced lunch rate in the 95% range, the students that Kozol writes about are ones that I could know in my present situation.
Fire in the Ashes is Kozol's latest book. It is easily a stand-alone title, although Kozol's book is a follow-up to other titles he has written and children he wrote about earlier in their lives.  While I don't recognize the children from reading of them previously, there is enough of their back story given that it will not matter whether you have read other books by Kozol.
One part of this book that I earmarked and have reflected on a few times since is what Kozol has to say about success. Some of the children he followed and has written about have achieved a great deal in terms of academics an employment. But as Kozol writes, "But "success" is an arbitrary term at best, takes a wide variety of forms, some of which do not glow so visibly." He goes on to discuss all the ways in which Angelo was at a disadvantage compared to the other children he writes of and finishes with, "He isn' slick. He isn't glib. He isn't cruel. He isn't mean. He's a kind and loving human being, which is not the case with many of the more sophisticated people that I know who have been to college or have multiple degrees. To me, those qualities of elemental goodness in his soul matter more than anything."
I have thought about this a lot, have re-read this portion of the book to myself and to others and while I want academic success for my students and my own children, I also want them to be good people and to be happy.  Considering everything Angelo went through, he is successful.  And it wasn't ever tested or rewarded at school.
Tomorrow it is the first day of school for my students.  I am excited to see them and love them and watch them learn and grow this year.

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