As Bad as They Say? Three Decades of Teaching in the Bronx

As Bad as They Say? Three Decades of Teaching in the Bronx

As Bad as They Say? Three Decades of Teaching in the Bronx

As Bad as They Say? Three Decades of Teaching in the Bronx

Synopsis

Rundown, vermin-infested buildings. rigid, slow-to-react bureaucratic systems. Children from broken homes and declining communities. How can a teacher succeed? How does a student not only survive but also come to thrive? It can happen, and As Bad as They Say? tells the heroic stories of Janet Mayer's students during her 33-year tenure as a Bronx high school teacher. In 1995, Janet Mayer's students began a pen-pal exchange with South African teenagers who, under apartheid, had been denied an education; almost uniformly, the South Africans asked, Is the Bronx as bad as they say? This dedicated teacher promised those students and all future ones that she would write a book to help change the stereotypical image of Bronx students and show that, in spite of overwhelming obstacles, they are outstanding young people, capable of the highest achievements. She walks the reader through the decrepit school building, describing in graphic detail the deplorable physical conditions that students and faculty navigate daily. Then, in eight chapters we meet eight amazing young people, a small sample of the more than 14,000 students the writer has felt honored to teach.She describes her own Bronx roots and the powerful influences that made her such a determined teacher. Finally, the veteran teacher sounds the alarm to stop the corruption and degradation of public education in the guise of what are euphemistically labeled reforms (No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top). She also expresses optimism that public education and our democracy can still be saved, urgently calling on all to become involved and help save our schools.

Excerpt

At a time of crisis and upheaval in the New York City school system, when tests, assessments, and school closings have left students and teachers feeling battered and demoralized and when leadership of the system has been handed from a prosecutor to a magazine executive, perhaps people concerned with education should begin listening to voices like Janet Mayer’s. Mayer, the author of As Bad as They Say? Three Decades of Teaching in the Bronx, wrote her book not only to highlight the heroism of Bronx high school students and teachers in the face of poverty, violence, and shockingly decayed and understaffed schools but also to denounce the educational reforms that have come out of Washington in the past ten years, which, Mayer feels, have made matters much, much worse. Among the many critics of the two great national education initiatives, No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, Mayer stands out for embedding her critique in a detailed portrait of teaching and learning in one of the nation’s poorest urban school districts. No one has ever written more eloquently than Janet Mayer about what it takes to spend a large portion of your career teaching children in poverty. Those who read As Bad as They Say? will be inspired by her stories of fortitude and creativity on the part of students and teachers, but they will also come away enraged that voices like hers have been marginalized in the debate over how to improve America’s schools. Veteran teachers like Janet Mayer are the forgotten moral compass in America’s educational reform movement. We ignore what she says at our peril.

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