Why Do Only White People Get Abducted by Aliens?

September 30, 2013 Memoirs 30

Howdy Bookworms!

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 BronxIt’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. 

aliensIlana 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?

30 Responses to “Why Do Only White People Get Abducted by Aliens?”

  1. Jennine G.

    I’m going to say the hero teacher, both dramatically and not, does exist. Simply because The Freedom Writers book/movie is a true story, as is Ron Clark Story. But that’s only two out of how many schools and teachers, so as far as true stories go, there aren’t so many big time hero teacher stories.

    A teacher’s influence often goes unnoticed. For me, it wasn’t until I was closer to graduation and found my niche that I realized how much one specific teacher influenced me. She was my 8th grade English teacher and the first person to tell me “you can write.” She is my hero teacher. Every day teachers are influencing kids (not always good either), but when that one teacher changes the course of that one student’s life (even if it’s down the road), he or she is a hero in my book. Sharon Draper (author) has a great story, which I heard her tell. Her worst student ever coming back to her twenty or so years later after he dropped out of school and faced some major life trials…apologizing…saying he ended up an English teacher and having her to thank for it. Not a big deal to anyone else, but definitely to that student.

    • Words for Worms

      I didn’t mean to imply that teachers aren’t heroic, because I absolutely think they are! I think that Garon’s point was more that it’s unrealistic to think the “right” kind of teacher can march in and turn around an entire school dealing with systemic poverty, violence, and a culture that doesn’t place a high value on education. I’ve certainly had some heroic teachers in my time- I feel that I owe them a lot! 🙂

  2. Megan M.

    I think hero teachers do exist, but I’m aware that the Hollywood version of the hero teacher (Dangerous Minds, etc.) is not completely accurate. There was a postcard on PostSecret that I think I’ll remember forever – it was a picture of an empty classroom and the words “Every day I’m expected to be a magician in a world where magic doesn’t exist.” And someone wrote a response to that postcard that said, “You aren’t the magician – you’re the magic.”

    Teachers are heroes, but some of them don’t realize it. I wish they were given more respect and more recognition. There are two or three teachers who really stand out in my life as inspiring me in some way, but I wouldn’t say I was a student who “needed” a hero, so I don’t think of any of my teachers as heroes, rather as great teachers.

    I also read a blog called Design Mom. She recently moved to Oakland and her two teenagers are going to what we call an “urban” school, and she talked recently about how many people seemed concerned and shocked that she would allow her children to attend. It really made me sad. I think a big reason these schools start failing is because the parents (esp. white, middle-class parents) don’t believe in them/aren’t willing to “risk” letting their child go to a school that looks bad on paper.

    • Words for Worms

      I love this post! Yes, teachers are heroes, but they aren’t magicians. It takes more than just one awesome teacher to solve the problems in these communities. I don’t think I can necessarily fault parents for choosing private school for their children if the public school in their area seems dangerous, but it’s definitely a Catch 22 situation…

  3. Christi

    As a former teacher in the ghetto, I completely agree with Garon that the “hero teacher” idea is something that only exists in the movies. In real life, it takes a village. When I was teaching (in the Crenshaw District in South LA), we used to make fun of movies like Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers because they were so unrealistic (those movie kids were INCREDIBLY well-behaved compared to real kids). The only realistic teaching movie was Stand and Deliver. Sounds like a great book!

    • Words for Worms

      With your background in inner city teaching? I think you would LOVE this book! Garon doesn’t sugar coat the kids’ behavior either. As I student I couldn’t imagine just completely ignoring my teacher’s instructions… Or trying to sneak booze into class disguised as mouthwash… Though I have to admit that was pretty creative. That kid’s mistake was using vodka tinted blue instead of peppermint schnapps…

    • Ilana Garon

      Hey guys! Ilana Garon (the author) here. First of all, this discussion is awesome! Secondly, I think the people who said the Hollywood trope of the “hero teacher” is what doesn’t exist have encapsulated one of the issues I’m trying to get at in the book. While real teachers do heroic things each day, from the magnificent (think teachers at Sandy Hook elementary) to the quotidien (helping a kid raise his average 5 points), I think most teachers–at least, the good ones–view themselves constantly as works in progress. They don’t think of themselves as “saving” students; each day presents new challenges, and the job as a whole is journey of qualified success. You win some, you lose some, and you learn sometimes that you have to re-evaluate your notion of success completely.

      I also really liked Chrisi’s comment that it “takes a village”–truer words were never spoken! And any good teacher can tell you, you don’t get there alone. Each kid requires the support of many teachers, perhaps who confer about his or her best interests, and each teacher requires the support of his or her peers in tackling the challenging aspects of our jobs.

      Thanks again, you guys. I’m so excited that people are talking about teaching, about education, and that my book could help stir up conversation. And thanks also, WfW, for this thoughtful, honest, and well-articulated review. You are all awesome.

    • RebeccaScaglione - Love at First Book

      And let me add to that “it takes a village” (as a former teacher at only Title 1, aka low income, schools) – Village includes parents. If the kids are coming to school without their materials, proper clothing, food, etc, then we can’t expect them to be up to standard for learning all day. I’m not saying this is all the fault of parents – absolutely not! However, the “blame” for a student not doing well in school should fall on EVERYONE’S shoulders, including the student’s.

  4. Found This Painted That

    Well I think there are hero teachers, but I also think they are not only in tough schools. There are those of us who struggled through high school one way or another (no guns or gang violence needed) but had that one teacher who still changed the course of their lives. I ran into a former student of the same teacher I’m thinking of here who was also inspired by her and we talked for an hour about her vast qualities, more than 20 years later! Both of us (and I’m sure there’s more than just us two) took a career path in the Art field after her teachings because she identified our talents. Here’s to you, Mrs. McLeod!

    • Words for Worms

      That is awesome! I didn’t mean to imply that teachers can’t touch lives, merely that they can’t solve EVERYTHING wrong in inner city schools. I’m really glad you had a Mrs. MacLeod in your life to push you in the direction of your passion.

  5. Kelly

    I’m so glad you’ve read and reviewed this, Katie!
    I think whether or not a teacher is a hero to a kid depends on how the kid internalizes that teacher’s effect on his or her life. We can’t really speak for kids’ perception but we can aim, as teachers, to do the best we can for them.

    • Words for Worms

      Absolutely! I think it’s awesome that dedicated teachers put so much of themselves into reaching their students. I almost cried at that part about the white soled gym shoes. Just… Awesome.

  6. Andi (@estellasrevenge)

    The hero teacher is a rarity at best. That is, one that turns around the lives of a large group (Dangerous Minds). I think a lot of kids have a hero teacher. A teacher can be a hero to any kid, or several. But rarely on the level that the trope embraces. This book sounds SO INTERESTING, and I’m interested to read a book that comes in more on the side of reality than trope.

  7. Psychobabble

    I think “hero teacher” is too simplistic. I think there are awesome teachers out there, and when a student is ready to learn and gets paired with an awesome teacher that’s a really great fit, then magic can happen. I had a few teachers who made magic happen with me, and that’s because I was ready to learn from that particular teacher’s style at that time of my life. And one of those teachers I actually learned in spite of his job as an instructor. To be more specific, he was a hypocrite in his teachings, and it was through that that got me to think critically.
    weee learning!

  8. NTLB

    Hi guys! My first post disappeared, I think, so sorry if this is redundant. 🙁 Ilana Garon here (author of this book). First off, I wanted to say that this discussion is awesome, and I’m so glad that my book could be a jumping off point for so much intelligent conversation about the role of teachers and how we are portrayed in the media. You guys restore my faith in the “comments” section.

    Secondly, I wanted to add/clarify one thing: When I say the hero teacher doesn’t exist, I mean specifically as far as the Hollywood trope goes. There are teachers doing heroic things all the time, from the magnificent (Sandy Hook teachers) to the quotidien (helping a kid raise his or her average by 5 points). These are all things to be celebrated. But what I think all good teachers can agree on is that teaching is a journey of qualified success, if you will. You win some, you lose some, and occasionally you have to redefine what your objectives are to begin with.

    I also wanted to agree with Chrisi’s comment that it “takes a village.” It sure does! (And that’s another thing the Hollywood archetype never shows.) Not only do the students require the support of many teachers in tandem, any good teacher was helped to the top by input, support, and collaboration from other teachers who were/are great practitioners of their craft.

    Thanks so much, guys, for being part of such a stimulating conversation–and thanks also to WfW for a thoughtful and well-written review.

    All good wishes!

    Ilana
    http://www.ilanagaron.com

  9. Shannon @ River City Reading

    I just recently finished reading (and enjoying!) this and I’m looking forward to putting together a review. As a teacher, part of what appealed to me the most about the book was the idea of debunking the Hollywood hero teacher myth – the idea that every teacher can walk into an underserved classroom and singlehandedly change the world for all of his/her kids by dodging just a few roadblocks.

  10. Don Royster

    To me, every teacher, who walks into a classroom and gives their best, is a hero. Unfortunately we live in a society that wants to blame teachers for the problems society pours into their classrooms. We have national conferences on why poor schools. But on the local level we’re laying off teachers for lack of money. We don’t expect teachers to educate. We expect them to give tests. It’s amazing so many wonderful teachers have stuck around to give the kids so much of themselves. All I can say is thanks, Ilana, for what you and other teachers are doing.

  11. Wayne

    My public school experience, at least through Junior High was pretty dismal. There was too much “busy work” like math worksheets on problems I could already solve. I did have an extremely good looking 6th grade female teacher who was smart and funny. Some of my junior teachers were truly awful: one elderly lady who taught geography and english was so bad we locked her out of the classroom one day. I did have some good teachers in High School who were quite bright but nobody I’d consider “hero teacher”. I think I learned more in metal shop than anyplace else. It was fun at least casting fishing lures and learning to weld and braze. I was more interested in playing my Fender guitar and taking girls to drive-ins

Talk to me, Bookworms!