Why They Can't Think and How to Save Them
After more than a decade in his second career as a high school English teacher, Rod Baird cogently, soberly, and courageously writes about a problematic educational transaction, or the deal (to get into college, to get out, better done without savings or sacrifice, and to get a high-salaried job), as if our society is literally printing counterfeit money while calling it the “full faith and credit” currency of learning. His warnings are forensic in nature. And his critique is at times a devastating commentary on diplomas that will spend like wooden nickels in years to come. He has had recent and direct frontline experience, particularly in a community that possesses ample affluence and financial security to invest long. Baird’s school serves as a microcosm of a much larger phenomenon that is recognizably similar at many other school districts in town or city; they have sold short.
Counterfeit Kids is a memoir that disturbs and entertains, but it is also much like a particular kind of work found in ancient literature called an enchiridion. Its discourse and anecdotes form a handbook in parenting, teacher preparation, the development of classrooms alive in conversation, and, most importantly, it is a manual about young people first examining their lives and priorities. Baird is tough-minded, especially about the material drift of parental concerns, but he is also, in the end, very protective of his students, mindful that we owe them a quality, really a touchstone of ideals, mentioned in a phrase from Lampadusa’s masterwork, The Leopard, “the sense…of everlasting childhood.” This is not the same as J. M. Barre’s Peter Pan, the notion of sustaining childhood indefinitely, but rather, keeping alive child-like curiosity into the years of heavy responsibility. Baird fights for this first principle as if his own life and its meaning depended absolutely on getting it right in thought, word, and deed. His syllabus is a marvel, more than he knows.
Ultimately an optimist, Rod Baird puts a silver coin in the pocket of his readers and suggests we spend it wisely.
William L. Fox
St. Lawrence University
Canton, New York.