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Running title: The Battle For Room 314 – My Year Of Hope And Despair In A New York City High School.
There was a time, prior to working in the public library system, that I actually (and seriously) considered becoming a teacher. At the time I was working in the IT department at a community college and often had the misfortune of travelling home with rowdy school kids. Seriously, what are kids doing at school till 8PM? Let’s just say that some of the thoughts that passed through my head I will not mention for I may end up on some bloody watchlist of sorts or might be paid an unwelcome visit by law enforcement. Needless to say, a career in education evapourated rather quickly from mind (somewhat). Still there is always that thought, throughout the years, of “what if” that occasionally creeps back into my mind.
So after having seen and read the synopsis of Battle, in our stacks, I was intrigued and, like Kirsten Dunst in Interview With The Vampire, I wanted more. And so began my (short) reading odyssey of “what could have been”. The books open with a very unflattering encounter with “Chantay” that makes a big scene in the classroom in which she instructs Mr. Boland to “suck her dick” (yes, I wish was making this up) … all this to impress a gangbanger boyfriend. This pretty much sets the tone of what is in store for the readers. And it is quite the ride. Sad to say, it didn’t take much in reading to realize that I had very, very little to regret. Yes, we’ve all seen To Sir With Love and Stand and Deliver, where there is that “hero teacher” that rolls into town with the dream of giving educationally disadvantaged youth a fighting chance in the world. What Battle reveals is more dire than I have suspected but is (sad to say) not quite shocking since I see remnants of this bollocks strolling through the library doors when school lets out. Sort of like that movie, Class of 2000 with the cyborg teachers. Battle reads more like cry of urgency, a literary flare launched into the social atmosphere of city whose good intentions seemingly allow the lunatics to run the asylum. For some strange reason, there is this compelling need to give everyone access to education even when some clearly don’t want to be educated and become a hindrance to those that really want to better themselves. And it is quite the sad spectrum. The good: Byron (the Jamaican prodigy that has great potential, but it constantly a victim to misinformed choices that robs him of many great educational opportunities), Yvette (the smart kid with a tawdry sexual pass … something about BJs to older guys ..for a dollar) and Mariah (the sullen, red-hoodie-wearing, insightful, seemingly-bright, angst-ridden teen). The bad: Kameron Shields (the rule breaking, extravagant, gangbanger), and Sameer Gherbe (Moroccan kid that coaxed another kid into shooting a kid with pellet gun … as sign of love). The ugly: Valentia (the young sociopath in training that used a trip to Six Flags to either fake a miscarriage or commit abortion by roller coaster …yes, bloody ponderous), and the shoddy treatment of Ni-Cole, who resides in a homeless shelter, by other classmates who themselves are probably a paycheck away from the same fate. Yes, not for the intellectually faint of heart, and would most likely drive most into the loving embrace of homeschooling. Battle is in fact, a tribute to teachers who rise everyday with the hope of giving some disadvantaged child out there a fighting chance whilst dealing the bureaucratic and social bollocks … and it is quite a big buggering pile of bollocks. As if the author did not have enough on his plate, Mr. Boland writes about his mother who often made disparaging remarks about his choice and the teaching profession in general. Having worked for college admissions, he talks about the unfair (in a few pages) selection process that is enough to make any overworked and ultra-studious student take to the nearest water tower with a high-powered rifle. I guess that finally explains why I (upper 90 percentile in graduating class) got the waiting list treatment for MIT and some bloke that could toss a ball through a hoop with a 65 (!!!) average gets a scholarship to Georgetown University (he actually dropped out after a year). But it is not all downright depressing. Oh no. There is that part of one of the chapters that I call it The Ballad of Father Tenner. A moment in Boland’s past about this pious, alpha-male, General Patton wannabe that basically bullied male parochial school kids … until he got caught in a prostitute sting.
Battle is an indictment of a crappy educational system run by clueless bureaucracy, twenty-first century parenting created by years of shitty pseudo-psychology and the way we treat our educators (hint: not so great). In consideration of how New Yorkers love to tout their intellectual superiority, it is downright fraudulent as Battle reveals the classroom has become a literal gladiatorial arena of sorts, where troublemakers are furloughed into classrooms of unsuspecting students. Students who are in turn victimized by the trouble makers and the system, thus robbing them of a decent educational experience. Progress. And in this version of To Sir With Love, Lulu does not step forward to sing a charming song … but instead throws a used tampon in Sid Poitier’s face and tells him to … sod off. Quite the eye-opener. And to those that use the phrase “those who can’t do … teach”: Wanks and tossers, the lot of you.

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