Sunday, July 11, 2010


A recommendation from Shelley via the Comments section, How To Survive in Your Native Land is about teaching in American public schools during the '60s. Apparently not much has changed: Herndon catalogues his frustration with worthless requirements, mandatory curricula, tests which don't measure anything meaningful, insipid and petty bureaucrats, passing fads in educational theory which swamp teachers with new requirements, texts, methods and tests which continue to fail to teach anyone anything. He notes how most teachers blame the kids and how most kids blame the teachers and how this is an untenable situation and that inevitably schools are zones of hopeless re-teaching of the same shit every year to keep kids busy until they grown enough to get the fuck out.

His text is surprisingly salty: he drops f-bombs, his students photograph their tits and dicks in the booth at the mall and then pass the pictures around at school, they smoke weed and torture class room pets. Some of the stuff which happens in his classroom is very familiar to me; so are many of his reactions. I like his analysis of schools as institutions, and his definition of institutions as places which do the exact opposite of their intended purpose: for example, a bank is intended to save your money for you, but they exist only to get you to borrow more money from them at interest. Schools are intended to educate the young, but they spend most of their time doing exactly the opposite, tracking kids and dumbing them down, etc.

Herndon's obviously read Kerouac, and perhaps Rexroth's Autobiographical Novel as well. His Beat mode of storytelling is well-suited to the absurdities he describes.

1 comment:

Shelley said...

From out here in California where the economy is writhing in agony like a dinosaur sinking into a tar pit, I am laughing at two things: first, your bald disclaimer: "I have no marketable skills."

Second, I forgot I mentioned the Herndon book, so was filled with shock and delight when I saw the cover here. Truly, that book more than any other has helped me survive (day by day) teaching, as well as dealing with any institution in this increasingly institutionalized society.

And thank you so much for putting me up on your blog list! It's helping me celebrate today,which is the 50th anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird.

P.S. My "word verification" isn't some kind of drunken insult against me, is it? The word seems to be: "urabiish."