Saturday, August 27, 2011

Gotta Start Somewhere

So I’ve recently finished Michael Johnston’s account of his time as a Teach For America corps member in the Mississippi Delta, In the Deep Heart’s Core, and, though I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I was a bit bothered by something the whole time. Here was Johnston, Yale Law grad though he was, remembering full paragraphs of dialogue from throughout his first year of teaching. And I might be sufficiently suspicious of this premise had Johnston worked, say, any job other than teacher, but it seems downright absurd given my own experience as a first year teacher. While I can say I do remember a few things from the months September through February of my first year, they consist mostly of me, in a grumpy stupor, trying to figure out the complex calculus of how many times I could afford to press the snooze button or coming to the conclusion that if hadn’t shed my grogginess after 25 minutes in the shower, it probably wasn’t going to happen.

Anyhow, for that reason I was consistently bothered by this problem of Johnston’s seemingly impeccable memory. In his Endnote, Johnston does address the issue. He admits that, though he never carried a recorder or notebook, he had believed his renderings to be faithful to his experience. Fair enough. Still, I was left with the feeling that I had no such way of accounting for my experience in Teach For America and so the idea of a blog popped to mind. To be fair, I remain thoroughly ambivalent about the prospect of writing a blog. It’s a weird mix of the desire to get some ideas down and out for reading and an awareness of the fact that, quite possibly and quite rightly, no one would care.

So I’ve settled on something somewhere in the middle. Rather than writing on my experience, I think I’ll write about something my experience informs a modest amount: education policy and the reform landscape. I come to the issue modestly, but mostly in search of whatever clarity might come to me through the process of writing in a forum that forces me to think critically about these complex issues I find so important.

Anyway, that’s my mild defense of blogging; and I do hope you’ll continue to read, comment, argue and discuss. But if you decide to blow it off, you should blow it off by reading In the Deep Heart’s Core, especially if you were/are in the corps. For a taste, you might try reading the introduction to his book here (pp. 3-4). Or here’s a small taste:

"The history of slavery, Jim Crow and segregation, the extreme poverty, the enduring chasms of race and class: All of these ills bear down on the Delta like the heat of the sun focused through a magnifying glass, threatening at any moment to set the landscape with flames. The ghosts of our great civic soldiers and their dreams of social justice linger strongest here; their restless souls not yet convinced that their work has been completed. You can feel them hovering over the graveyards and schoolyards, the courthouses and the jailhouses, letting the weight of their watching compel us to right ourselves and steer toward a new horizon."


  1. CJ! So glad to see you blogging now! Looking forward to following your PG County adventures!

  2. CJ, What the best book you've read on Ed policy?

  3. of course post #1 would be about michael johnston :)

  4. Mike, I haven't read any books on ed policy, unless you count Whatever it Takes (, Paul Tough's book on Geoffrey Canada. I can definitely recommend the EdNext Book Club Podcast (, in which Mike Petrilli interviews authors of ed policy/reform related books. Lots of good stuff on there.