Review of ‘As Bad as They Say? Three Decades of Teaching in The Bronx’
As Bad as They Say? Three Decades of Teaching in The Bronx
By Janet Grossbach Mayer.
Published by Fordham University Press: 2011, 166 pp
As the season of graduations, retirements, moving up — and moving on — ceremonies dominate the end-of-year school calendar, it’s worth pausing to consider exactly what it means to devote one’s life to students.
Janet Grossbach Mayer, a Bronx native, who spent her high school teaching career in that beleaguered borough, offers a humanizing, poignant glimpse of some of the 14,000 students who have been part of her life.
“I saw my students as my heroes, who, despite overwhelming obstacles, were not only capable of high achievement but, more important, were also outstanding human beings,” she writes.
She offers profiles of students who’ve made a powerful impression on her through the years, like Omara (all names have been changed by the author to protect the students’ privacy), who becomes pregnant in high school, doesn’t drop out and ultimately attends college at night. Or a young woman like Ramika, who was raised on welfare, without parents, and nonetheless earns admission to SUNY New Paltz, complete with a scholarship from a generous donor. Then there’s Pedro, who had an undiscovered gift for music, and was able to attend the Manhattan School of Music.
Mayer uses these personal stories to illustrate the political. She rages against the inequities of the American educational system, especially the demands imposed by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 that exacts performance standards from schools without providing the financial means to achieve them. She contrasts the plight of inner city schools, like the ones where she spent her professional career, with wealthy public school districts like Scarsdale or Great Neck—not to begrudge those communities their good schools, but to ask why those successes can’t be duplicated elsewhere.
She’s frustrated that “NCLB was supposed to narrow the achievement gap in America between black and white, Hispanic and white, and the poor and more affluent…” but “ not only are we failing to narrow the achievement gap, but in our obsession with these standardized tests, covering only linguistic and logical-mathematical skills, we are grossly over-looking, neglecting and even abandoning most of the other intelligences.”
I’m sure that many classroom teachers would say a hearty “amen” to that opinion. Mayer’s ultimate message is that students, and their champions, their teachers, persevere despite politicians and policies that would seem to do everything to thwart them. #