Harvard Educational Review
  1. After the Bell

    Contemporary American Prose about School

    edited by Maggie Anderson and David Hassler

    Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2007. 200 pp. $17.50 (paper)

    In their introduction to After the Bell: Contemporary American Prose about School, editors Anderson and Hassler remind us that “we live for ten or twelve years of our lives in a random and forced community” called school, and the experiences of school leave indelible marks on the psyche of all who are educated in America. The sixty-two contributors to this anthology are both novice and well-established authors, each of whom has written a short personal essay based on one moment in their schooling lives. Each narrative speaks for itself, but taken together they convey the texture of life in parochial, private, and public schools.

    For some authors, school is the place where they had their first experiences with friendship or peer envy. In his elementary school classroom, David Citino writes, “There’s one day that’s new above all others, though, that tickles up and down the spine, gives us a hot face, and moves and taps our feet. When the teacher tells us she or he is changing our seats, we know the change will be the way we see our world and everything in it.” Citino’s classrooms are places where students developed relationships across differences, where he and his peers learn “that everybody chews differently.” For Joyce Dyer, school does not foster camaraderie among her peers; rather, it leaves her feeling inadequate. She describes her envy of cheerleaders and asserts, “I hated—absolutely hated—how perfect the bodies of cheerleaders were. Cheerleaders had strong, silky thighs; I had skinny arms and legs and knobby knees. . . . Cheerleaders could do cartwheels all the way to school, if they wanted to; I was lucky to arrive unbroken each morning after stumbling on sidewalk cracks.” In these essays we see schools as both embracing communities and alienating institutions.

    Some contributors speak of the difficulty of reconciling the demands of home and school: As children they carry the burden of adhering to family traditions and rules, and as students they are expected to obey school regulations and expectations. Audre Lorde recalls the trouble she faced on her first day of school, when her teacher asked her to complete a seemingly simple assignment: to write the first letter of her name using a black crayon and paper that resembled her older sisters’ music notebooks. Lorde writes that “having been roundly spanked on several occasions for having made that mistake at home, I knew quite well that crayons were not what you wrote with, and music books were definitely not what you wrote in.” Despite her greatest effort, she failed to please both her teacher and her parents. Rane Arroyo writes about a moment in middle school when he successfully navigates the treacherous terrain between home and school by convincing his “unfunded family” to buy him a jock for gym class. Aware that failure to bring the jock to gym could result in his failing the class, and knowing his father would not fund this nonacademic purchase, he solicits his mother’s support. After he tries on the jock, his mother warns, “Don’t tell your father — he’ll take it back and demand the rest of it.” In school, when his gym teacher asks the students to line up wearing only their jocks, he is elated because for once “he was not singled out.” Leaving his father oblivious and using his mother as accomplice, he successfully pleases his teacher.

    For many authors, school provides their first lessons on love or abuse. Among these stories are Barbara Kingsolver’s tale of falling in love with books through cataloging her English teacher’s collection, and Mark Brazaitis’s recollection of a substitute Latin teacher who kept him engaged in school as he struggled with puberty, family crisis, and isolation in a large public school. In contrast to these inspiring reflections, Kenneth McClane’s story portrays school as a place where teachers wield authority without constraint. He recalls a classmate who was wrongfully accused of making spitballs and, as punishment, is made to “stand before the class, fill a six-ounce cup with his own spittle and drink it down.

    After the Bell is a book for anyone who has attended school. The collection of prose reminds us that schools are primarily social institutions where we encounter love and fear, disappointment and inspiration, connection and exclusion. It reminds us that schools are places where we discover and create ourselves.

    — D.S.
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    Abstracts

    Hijacking Education Policy Decisions
    Ballot Initiatives and the Case of Affirmative Action
    Michele S. Moses and Lauren P. Saenz, University of Colorado at Boulder
    Different Worlds and Divergent Paths
    Academic Careers Defined by Race and Gender
    Juanita Johnson-Bailey and Ronald M. Cervero, The University of Georgia
    Language and the Performance of English-Language Learners in Math Word Problems
    Maria Martiniello, Educational Testing Service
    The New Outspoken Atheism and Education
    Nel Noddings, Stanford University, Emerita
    Beyond NCLB and AYP
    One Superintendent’s Experience of School District Reform
    Ron Sofo, Freedom Area School District, Pennsylvania

    Book Notes

    Teacher Mentoring and Induction
    edited by Hal Portner

    Brick Walls
    by Thomas E. Truitt

    After the Bell
    edited by Maggie Anderson and David Hassler