New vision of chaos

Elizabeth Gold’s book about teaching ninth grade English in a “New Visions” school in New York City, Brief Intervals of Horrible Sanity, has been reissued in paperback. David Ulin’s LA Times review calls it a “primer” on the problems of progressive education. A poet looking for a steady salary, Gold took over a class at the School of the New Millennium in Queens after her predecessor had a nervous breakdown. Gold quickly understands why.

The classroom itself is a “Lord of the Flies” setting, where order is a lost cause and the only rule is that of the mob. For every student who wants to work, two or three come to school for no other reason than to be as disruptive as they can. Gold admits that she is not good with discipline, and her inability to control her students becomes a running theme.

This is exacerbated by New Millennium’s philosophy: “Every child has a voice.” Student empowerment has long been a hallmark of progressive education, but where is the line between empowerment and chaos? And how does one educate when, as Gold tells us, “I am looking at a blizzard of paper and kids banging their chairs around and howling…. This is the moment I am supposed to say the words that will whip some into even greater frenzy … but it is too loud for me … All I can think is ohgodohgodohgodIcannotIcannotIcannotDothis.”

Gold concludes New Millennium’s top priority is to make students feel good, regardless of what they do.

If you follow the book link to Amazon, you’ll see reader reviews are split between people who loved the book and people who hated it. (And buy something while you’re on Amazon; I get a cut of the action if you start from this site.)

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  1. D Anghelone says:

    For every student who wants to work, two or three come to school for no other reason than to be as disruptive as they can.

    Or the disruptive students, or some of them, are reacting to being institutionalized. Are they necessarily less commendable than the students who submit to anything for the rewards?

  2. Just like chimps in a zoo or prisoners under lockdown. That’s what comes to mind whenever someone claims that school is necessary for developing socialization skills. Although it is sort of interesting to watch a group of early adolescents spontaneously self-organize into an archetypal primate society complete with social hierarchy and mating protocols.

    Gold might exercise just slightly less control than other instructors, or may be just slightly less effective at keeping her students engaged, with the result that the primates/inmates funnel most of their rebellious energy into her class period. She’s probably lucky it’s only paper flying around the room.

  3. Sorry folks– didn’t mean to go off like Dennis Miller.

  4. Why do we go out of our way to rationalize a bad situation?