In 414 pages, author J. O. Salls gives readers a "behind the scenes" view of the realities of public education and the people who spend their lives in educating this country's citizens. Anyone who reads this book will understand why all the "quick fix" solutions for our education systems completely miss the mark. The story is as subtly complex as what is actually happening in our public schools today. Between the misguided but well financed Board of Education candidates, to the well-intentioned but overworked parents so busy trying to make a living for their child that they almost lose him, the story reads like a documentary about what is really "wrong" with our schools.
First Year should be required reading for every teacher preparation program, every politician, and most especially for every "education reformer" who thinks they have all the answers for public education. First Year would make an exceptional read for any book club. For high school book clubs it would be a great discussion starter about the realities of high schools, the masks students AND teachers wear, and how fine the line is between our better angels and our worse demons. For adult book clubs, particularly those who focus on social awareness, this would be a great start to understanding what really needs to be done to address the challenges we face as a country...and how we might productively address them.
That the events in this book could occur in a state like Minnesota, long recognized as one of the top education states in the country, in a school that could easily serve as a model for any "feel good" education movie, with students who reflect the depth and breadth of our American citizenry, should be a wake-up call for us all. All of the challenges and tragedies of our country are visited upon our students, no matter where they go to school. Those who truly care about quality education for every child should read this book to get an understanding of what is really needed to improve education in our country.
Joan Kamila Lewis, English Teacher, Kapolei High School, Kapolei Hawaii and Secretary-Treasurer of Hawaii State Teachers Association