Another Column at MyShelf.Com

Before the Title, Past
A Nonfiction Column
By Jeff Shelby

Back to School

      September means backpacks, school supplies, new clothes and lunch boxes. Students shake off the lethargy of summer and begrudgingly return to the classroom. Moms and Dads celebrate nationwide. (Well, my parents used to celebrate anyway. Three months of me running around with baseball bats, surfboards and their money every summer left them muttering about year round boarding school each August.) So as you start to navigate carpool lines, attend PTA meetings and dole out lunch money, here are a few books that celebrate what goes on in America’s schools:

Absolutely American: Four Years at West Point by David Lipsky
     Lipsky followed one entire class through their four year experience at West Point and gives us detailed portraits of a diverse class, showing us evidence that the students are able to retain their personalities under the strict military discipline. Never before had an author been granted such sweeping access to West Point and Lipsky delivers a great, engaging book.

The Essential 55: An Award-Winning Educator's Rules for Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child by Ron Clark
     Clark was recently featured on Oprah as one of the best teachers in the nations and was also honored as a Disney Teacher of The Year. His 55 rules don’t apply just to the classroom but also to a young person’s life. The rules are fun, practical and relevant and it’s easy to find yourself yearning to become a student in Clark’s class.

The Freedom Writers Diary : How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them by Freedom Writers and Erin Gruwell
     The story is familiar – a young, ambitious teacher goes to work in a rough school and changes their lives. Gruwell did that with her class in California and this book is comprised of her students’ journals. The stories, revelations and lessons are interesting and emotional. This book demonstrates the great things that can happen in America’s classrooms.

Girls Will Be Girls: Raising Confident and Courageous Daughters by Dr. JoAnn Deak
     Deak attempts to answer many of the questions raised in the popular Reviving Ophelia. Stressing communication and understanding, Deak lays out a structured plan for raising young girls in today’s complicated world. She offers terrific scenarios and examples and while not offering a guaranteed solution, her ideas make sense.

Crossing the Water: Eighteen Months on an Island Working with Troubled Boys-a Teacher's Memoir by Daniel Robb
     Robb worked as a teacher for a year and a half on an island off of Cape Cod where a progressive school takes in young men classified as juvenile delinquents. The school attempts to not only educate them but provide them with a sense of normalcy in their lives. Robb’s account is beautifully written and often moving. If you choose one book off this list, make it this one.

The bell’s ringing – don’t be late!

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