Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Great American High School Novel

I was just wondering: why aren't there more novels about high schools -- from the adult perspective? There are plenty of YA novels that explore high school life. I've read most of the Twilight series, and found it amusing how irrelevant teachers, course content and curriculum were to the lives of the central characters. Of course the whole point of Biology class is sitting next to the sexy vampire (flesh as hard and smooth as marble). But, say I wanted to pick up a contemporary novel that mirrored my life as I know it (somewhat scary thought)? What would I read? One contemporary novel that I read some time ago, and thought was very good, was An Honorable Profession by John L'Heureux. The plot involves a high school English teacher who is wrongly accused of an inappropriate relationship with a student -- but the accusation arises more out of confusion and error than malice. I remember the novel as being complex, and thought L'Heureux captured some of the departmental nonsense pretty well. But I can't think of anything recent other than that one novel. There are some dated novels like Up the Down Staircase (Bel Kau(fman), and of course there is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Muriel Spark) and Goodbye Mr. Chips (James Hilton). But I really think someone needs to write about what life is really like inside a public school these days. Politicians and pundits have many strong opinions about how schools should be run, and what teachers and schools should be doing, but my guess is that few outside of public education have the slightest glimmer of what it is really like.

Since I'm on the topic, I think I'll just mention how irritating I find "teacher-as-hero" movies. There is something so annoying about this genre -- it simultaneously glorifies and belittles an important profession. There is always some pivotal scene where the teacher-hero teaches a child how to play a drum (in about fifteen minutes) or comprehend all of literature or sing or paint or....well, you get the idea. And of course, all those other bad teachers are doing nothing (or worse). I also find it annoying that so often a real-life "hero-teacher" pops in on the school system for a year or two, writes a book (that goes to film), and then goes right back to the real world, where people make real money. And then of course they are depicted in the film by someone glamorous, like Michelle Pfeiffer (I know I'm dating myself with that reference). I do have great respect for teachers who really are heroes (like Rafe Esquith) and stay right there in the classroom, for 25 years or more. One of my favorite teaching books is Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire, by Rafe Esquith, and he is a genuine, non-irritating, teacher-hero.

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