Harper’s: The Re-Education of an American Teacher

This essay in the September 2011 issue of Harper’s is an eloquent, extended retort to all those who, in big ways and in small, in rhetoric and in policy, would demonize public school teachers or undermine the public education system itself.

Retired teacher Garret Keizer goes back to teach high school literature in a relatively stable, decently funded public school system in Vermont. In other words, as public schools go, he’s working in fairly ideal conditions.

Still, he says, the job is so hard he suffers from anxiety as he confronts not only the day-to-day difficulties of teaching — lesson plans, getting the kids to enjoy reading — but also the realities of what many of his students confront in their daily lives, at school and at home. He talks of students who come from homes where domestic violence is the norm, students so tired from working the farm that they fall asleep at their desks, students forced to parent younger siblings. He talks about a principal who walks every kid out to the bus stop each day, and who stays late to prepare even more for the next day. Of teachers having to follow silly rules that have little to do with learning and everything to do with taking tests or with satisfying some politician’s latest whim about “what works in education.” 

It’s an eye-opening piece, made all the better by superb writing that conveys Keizer’s deep sense of duty to be there, in every way, for these students. It’s heartbreaking, but uplifting as well. I don’t do it justice here, but this one essay is worth the price of a year’s subscription; at the very least, it’s worth heading out to pick up the issue.

Science Friday: Irene Edition

Updated 2:40 p.m.: The view from space stuns astronauts.

Updated 1:06 p.m.: White House issues warnings and information.

Just got a call from Pepco to expect power widespread power outages as Hurricane Irene waltzes up the East Coast, looking to glance the D.C. region and slide up to New York and Cape Cod.

For those of us in the city, tree and water damage (the latter from storm-drain backups) are probably the biggest concerns. If the storm stays on track , I expect Capitol Hill to lose power.

In addition to the basic prep tasks (links below), here is another tip: If you’re taking in water from the roof, poke a hole in the ceiling and let it drop into a bucket. Give it a place to go and there will be less damage. With batteries, candles, food, wine, and beer, waiting it out should be easier.

Here are a few sites that have good information on how to prepare and what to expect (I’ll update the list as needed):

Frequently asked questions (Washington Post)

Are you prepared? (Wapo)

National Hurricane Center