If you’re anything like me, you read that title and your mind immediately started thinking of the sociological and cultural reasons behind the racial divide in the reporting of extra-terrestrial encounters. I’ve spent far too much time mulling over this topic. However, if you were a better reader than I am, you would have read the full title right off the bat: Why Do Only White People Get Abducted by Aliens?: Teaching Lessons from the Bronx. It’s a memoir by Ilana Garon discussing her time teaching in inner city schools. That’s right, y’all. Non-fiction. I want a cookie!
*FULL DISCLOSURE* The author of this book offered me a free copy in exchange for an honest review. I was good at school and never so much as got a detention. Given Ms. Garon’s background as a teacher I wouldn’t want to give a dishonest review and land myself in detention at age 30.
Ilana Garon accepted a teaching position in the Bronx fresh out of college. She joined a program that placed energetic new graduates in teaching positions in some of the country’s roughest inner city schools. The program didn’t require education majors either- Garon was not. Her student teaching experience took place during a rushed and sparsely attended summer school session. Unprepared for what awaited her, this Jewish girl from the Virginia suburbs was about to take on an impoverished and violence riddled school district.
Garon is careful to point out that her memoirs are do not fit the mold of the “hero teacher.” We’ve all seen THAT movie, right? The class full of violent misfits who miraculously turn their lives around thanks to one exceptional unorthodox teacher? Yeah. That really isn’t how it works. It does, however, include amusing anecdotes (the title of the book was taken from a student’s research paper thesis), heartbreaking stories of good kids dragged into gang violence, and the occasional story that might just make it into one of those cheeseball “hero teacher” movies.
I really enjoyed this book. I appreciated Garon’s debunking of the “hero teacher” trope. I also liked that though teaching in the Bronx wasn’t a Hollywood caliber experience, you could tell how dedicated Garon was to the students. She doesn’t try to minimalize the problems in inner city schools. She doesn’t claim to offer simple solutions. What she does is tell an honest story of her experiences, making it everything a memoir should be.
If I had one complaint, it’s a small one. I’m so used to reading fiction that I get a little thrown when a story isn’t perfectly chronological. It would have been impossible to hit the chronology perfectly,given the way Garon chose to tell her story, but I found myself occasionally thinking “Wait, didn’t that guy drop out already?” or something similar. That’s not a criticism of Garon’s work so much as my own shortcomings as a reader.
So, Bookworms, tell me. Since we’re on the subject of school and all, I may as well ask. Does anyone out there feel like they actually had a “hero teacher” or do you agree with Garon that the concept is a misguided ideal that doesn’t exist in real life?