The Reeducation of an American Teacher
By Garret Keizer
Metropolitan Books. 320 pp. $26
nolead ends nolead begins
Reviewed by Meredith Broussard
Garret Keizer's new memoir Getting Schooled: The Reeducation of an American Teacher should be required reading for anyone with a child in an American public school. It should also be on the required list for anyone in school administration, anyone who will eventually have a child in public school, and anyone who has wondered why schools are so different today than they were 20 years ago.
Keizer, a contributing editor at Harper's and a former Guggenheim fellow, left his teaching job at a Vermont high school after 16 years to become a full-time writer. Fourteen years later, at 57, he returned to the same job, at the same school, on a one-year contract because he and his wife needed health care. Getting Schooled is his masterly account of stumbling through that year with grace, good cheer, and a hefty dose of introspection.
Anyone but the most unrelenting optimist might feel conflicted about such a return, but Keizer is exceptionally, wonderfully honest about how he feels toward his profession: "There was never a time during the sixteen years I taught when I didn't imagine doing something else. Even in the best moments, when teaching gave me the kind of rush some people find in skydiving or cocaine, I yearned to be home writing." This is an excellent reminder to all of us that teachers are human, too. Teaching may be cast as a calling, but for many teachers it is no more and no less than a job.
Keizer is at his finest when he rails against America's intractable problems. He connects the immovable obstacles in his classroom to larger, structural issues in America today. Institutionalized racism, intellectual poverty, blind faith in technology as a cure-all, policies that exist for the convenience of corporate vendors rather than educational usefulness - all come under fire.
Keizer offers a cutting indictment of a society that teaches its children to privilege flash over substance: "We inculcate in our children the sensibilities of raccoons, a fascination with shiny objects and an appetite for garbage, then carp about 'the texting generation' as if thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds who couldn't boil an egg are capable of creating a culture. They grow on what we feed them. It has never been otherwise. The only thing that changes is the food."