Monday, January 11, 2010

Media Mondays: Educating Esme

Not exactly a book for little kids, but older kids might enjoy it.

I finished this one in five hours flat. Four of which were the night before, staying up until 3 AM to finish it. It's not a big book. It's not a classic, or terribly profound. Still, I really liked it. Me - who usually doesn't like books of this nature: self-help, autobiographical, inspirational-under-horrible-circumstances stories. A lot of those books seem so fake, so self-applauding.

Madame Esme may be a little self-applauding (she's a teacher, she HAS to applaud for herself because no one else is going to do it), but she's certainly not a fake. Just like the cover description says, she hangs the clean laundry out with the dirty - her accomplishments and failures out there for all to see.

Which is refreshing. I totally believe in taking the failures along with the successes together. One can't happen without the other.

Two things stuck out to me:

1. Esme's principal at the time used to call her late at night for "pat on the back" conversations. One day, Esme got so sick of it that she let her phone ring until the machine answered it. She woke up again at 3 AM to call her principal back, saying, "I'm so sorry. It's just that you called me so late. I knew you wouldn't call me so late if it wasn't terribly important. So I thought I had better call you back."

The late-night phone calls stopped there. Or I assume it did, the book doesn't really mention it again, either because they did stop, or because the principal started doing other, much more annoying things than late-night phone calls. Which he did.

2. The principal nags Esme about her insisting that the students call her "Madame Esme" rather than the more conventional "Miss/Mrs/Ms." After a huge confrontation, she refuses to talk about it anymore with the principal and storms out of his office. An older teacher colleague stops her on her way to resigning and they have a little conversation. The older teacher says, "You call that a fight? You wait until you've been teaching in the city awhile. See if you can stay here after you come up against the fight. The fight that will prove Mr. Turner's just the captain of a sinking ship. The fight that's bigger than two people in a room. It's a fight that you can't win even though you're right, because you can't win it all by yourself."

Esme asks the older teacher to clarify about "the fight," but the older teacher just shook her head, smiling. Esme decides to stay, if only to find out what "the mysterious Bigger Fight" is.

If the first situation above happened to me, I'm not sure I would have handled it like Esme - before I read her book. Now, I would handle it EXACTLY like Esme.

The second situation has been brewing in the back of my head since March. There is a bigger fight that the governors and the boards of educations and all that crap of two people in a room. It's so big, that it's all around us, and inside every single person in this nation, in the world. Where the "being an educated person" is less of an adjective and more of a characteristic.

It's a pretty disarming book for the reader. I recommend it to anyone who is brave enough to face the truth of what education is really doing to children.

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