Sunday, January 29, 2006

# Posted 11:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PRAISING A BOOK I HAVEN'T READ: Busboys and Poets, the restaurant/ bookstore/coffee shop, is one of the most recent and valuable additions to the U St. neighborhood. I visited B&P for the first time on a very cold night last week in order to hear my friend Christina Asquith talk about her new book, The Emergency Teacher.

Her story is simple and compelling. As a young education reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, she found that there was almost no coverage about the crisis in urban education. Not just because the newspapers didn't care, but because the schools themselves were so committed to covering up the evidence of their manifest failure.

In order to see the education system from the inside, Christina left her job at the Inquirer and became a middle school teacher at the school ranked 42nd out of 42 middle schools in the Philadelphia district. Her book is about what she saw on the inside what we needs to be done to change the system.

In her talk at B&P, Christina announced that the answers she arrived at might strike liberals like herself as something taken out of the conservative playbook. In her talk, she blasted the teachers' unions for protecting incompetent educators and crushing the enthusiasm of young teachers like herself who wanted to change the system.

Although strongly in favor of raising urban salaries to match those given to suburban teachers, Christina said that throwing money at the problem is not the answer. Instead, the answer is to have strong principals who can demand the best from their teachers (and fire the worst) rather than being tied down by a thousand incapicitating revisions in the union-negotiated contract.

Christina also blasted "bilingual" education as a trap that prevents Hispanic students from learning the English skills they need to get ahead. In addition, it often prevents them from evening learning enough Spanish to be literate in their native language.

In light of this unorthodox message, it isn't surprising that the first papers to pick up Christina's book were the New York Post and Washington Times. However, the author of the Post's review was Andrew Rotherham, aka Eduwonk, of the DLC-affiliated Progressive Policy Institute. Rotherham writes that The Emergency Teacher
Is exactly the sort of truth-telling that is needed...

Through vivid and personal anecdotes, she captures the exhausting intensity of teaching in a chaotic environment where, for students, major breakthroughs and horrendous episodes often occur within hours of one another. She also makes clear an all-too-often overlooked aspect of urban school reform: While the system is built to serve the adults and not the children, there are many adults trapped inside it who also desperately want change, too.
I've only found time to read twenty pages of the book so far, but I'm already liking it a lot. I hope this book gets the attention it deserves.
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

The book sounds great, but Busboys and Poets is terribly overrated. I live nearby and have been a few times, and each time it disappoints me more and more. At least they have cool book events.
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