You can’t seem to pick up a newspaper these days without reading about the alarming state of the educational system in our country. The No Child Left Behind Act, in particular, has sparked fierce debate about the causes of the problems in schools across America. It seems that everyone with access to a soapbox has offered their opinion on how to save our nation’s students. This book provides an in-depth look at the reality of public school teaching, and leaves the reader with the realization that there is no simple solution to the problems existing in our school system.
Man Overboard takes us through a year in the life of newly minted high school math teacher Ric Klass. A seasoned veteran of the business world, Klass decided to become a teacher after helping a struggling high school student succeed at algebra and gain admission to a top university. Inspired by this student’s success, Klass reasoned that he could similarly help students who were floundering in the chaos of inner city high schools. As he would find out soon after the school year began, he was wrong.
Although this book is about a math teacher, it is striking how little discussion there is about mathematics. There is good reason for this — between severely overcrowded classrooms and students who lack the ability to focus for even the briefest moment, Klass hardly has a chance to get to the math. The pressures he faces outside of the classroom are no less daunting — a school administration that dictates which teaching technique to use, little support from the school security force, and periodic reports of assaults on staff members. By the end of the book, I was exhausted and amazed that he finished out the year. In this I believe he is representative of the very dedicated teachers across the nation who each day face challenges for which they are ill-equipped to handle — challenges which often have nothing to do with the quality of their academic preparation.
Although Klass mentions several times throughout the book that smaller class sizes would be the ticket to solving the problems he has faced in his short tenure as teacher, the sheer magnitude of the chaos at his school makes it clear that much more than class size reduction is needed. And although an inner city high school is not necessarily representative of the high schools of mainstream America, many of the issues he raises are exactly the ones that need to be considered if we are to finally begin to repair our system of public education.
Rebecca Black is a Graduate Student in Education at Texas A&M University. She has a B.A. and M.S. in Mathematics and is passionately interested in the field of distance learning. When she is not doing mathematics or educational research she can be found cruising the back roads of the San Francisco Bay Area on her Harley Davidson motorcycle.