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28 June 2017


This book is a couple of years old and set in a different state, but it reminds me SO MUCH of my kids' high school right now. I gave some thought to reading it to them to see what they thought of it, but also to give them some insight to being on the other end of some of the craziness of school.

I will admit that I cannot be at all objective about Mr. Keizer's books, since I was fortunate enough to be one of his students some 35 years ago. But his first book, NO PLACE BUT HERE, makes an interesting companion to GETTING SCHOOLED; it's a similar memoir of teaching, set at the same high school, but written at the beginning of his career. (And as for PRIVACY? You're in for a treat; it's a delightful and thoughtful little jewel.)

CR Fan,
Sigh. Trying to give insight, as well as the insight is written, to high schoolers might be a tough slog.
And yes, that attitude probably proves why it's a good thing I never became a teacher.

Hey, how cool is that (that you were a student of Keizer's)? Thanks for commenting. And thanks for the heads up on his earlier book. I want to read his whole catalog, just have to find the time and requisite attention.

I'm totally sold on "Privacy"; I did get most of it read and know it's something special. But I do want to re-read it more closely.

One of my favorite lines in the book is when someone looks into a classroom and asks about the goings-on and a student says something to the effect that it's ok..."we have Mr. Keizer with us." That said, I preferred PRIVACY. The Enigma of Anger is somewhere between the two books, in terms of essays and personal memoir.

I am interested, Keith, in how you felt things had changed or stayed the same between the two books on education...

I think the biggest changes are in technology. In the early 80s, computers were unheard of; now, every kid is expected to have one, and all of the homework is spelled out on a class web page (where the parents can see it, too), and is probably even turned in via computer.

On the downside, I think there's been a change in parental involvement. When I was in high school, my teachers could assume that if there were serious problems in the classroom -- behavioral or academic -- that a call to the parents would help to resolve matters because, in all but a handful of cases, the parents would crack down on their end.

I am no expert in the field, but the sense I get from GETTING SCHOOLED is that these days, that assumption is less safe; it's probably still true in most cases, but the exceptions are no longer as rare as they were. And I think that the assumption that parents care, and are willing or able to help, has always been truer in small, rural high schools like mine than it has in larger, urban high schools. If he's struggling with parental involvement in rural Vermont, I can't imagine what that struggle must be like in the poorest and roughest neighborhoods of Los Angeles (where I live now) or other large cities.

What's stayed the same is something that Mr. Keizer (after all these years, it still feels wrong to just say "Keizer" without the courtest title) doesn't address directly, but that he is certainly an example of: The quality of education you get is largely a matter of luck. Is your school any good? Do your teachers know what they're doing? Do they have the resources they need, and if they don't, do they have the creativity to make classes interesting and informative without them? Do they CARE about the results they get? Mr. Keizer was, and I assume he still is, a superb teacher, and those of us who spent time in his classes were extremely fortunate. He and his colleagues when I was a student (and the new book suggests this is still true) worked very hard without a lot of money to spend on the sort of extras and frills that kids in wealthier schools might have access to.

Thank you, Keith. I would guess you are right. I will have to read the earlier book when I get a chance. I'm glad you experienced Mr. Keizer as a good teacher. I have learned from him as an excellent writer. Lucky us!

Having been a "Contributing Editor" myself, I can explain that you get that job title when you, as a freelance writer, have established a close enough relationship with the real Editor of the magazine to be given a freer reign on the kinds of stories you want to bring to the magazine. That's all. There is no power attached to it, except that the Editorial staff knows your name and won't make you wait six months to get paid for a feature.

Social revolution will do nothing to make poor parents talk, or read, to their kids more. The inequity of parental quality (did I say that right?) will never be eradicated. Like Keith said, all of life is a matter of luck, and that's something that you can't legislate away. It doesn't take a village: it only takes two people willing to do the work, and there are too many people out there not willing to do the work.

That image of the two-pointed pencil on the cover of Mr. Keizer's book . . . is it a pushmi - pullyu kind message, right? Going nowhere?

Keith, CR Fan,
thank you for having your discussion here. So many interesting things to think about. I find it so interesting that once a teacher known as MR. Keizer, always a teacher known as Mr. Keizer. He himself talks about that sort of thing in the book when he admits he can't call the principal anything other than Mr. Messier. I am not big on the prefixes myself (if you call me Mrs. Cords I simply won't realize you're talking to me) but to hear them used with such respect is refreshing, I must admit.

Oh, sadly, I know exactly how being a contributing editor does not lead to fabulous prizes or great wealth. My point is that it SHOULD. If tons of people out there are making a lot of money running cell phone stores, and they are, well, dammit, writing a good sentence should also be worthy of some remuneration. I'm a little bitter about the whole writing thing since I read that Canada actually has a lot more freelance writers and entrepreneurs because they're not all AFRAID TO DEATH ALL THE TIME that they won't have health insurance. This country is cruel.

I don't know what the answer is, but this idea that we can bring all kids up to the same level through education is a dangerous idea. Dangerous like "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps."

You know, I never gave much thought to that pencil image. Thank you for drawing it to my attention--you can see I'm not much of a pictures gal. I'm going to have to think about that now too.

I think the image is also the teaching equivalent of "burning the candle at both ends;" the stress of the job is a theme of the newer book.

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