Year-in-the-life books, Part II
This subject is ripe for this kind of treatment: it's very much on a calendar, and each year of school you're supposed to reach some developmental milestones. And nearly everyone has attended school, many are sending kids to school, we all live in school districts...
I've divided this list into grade levels (kind of), starting with the early years.Grade school
Kidder, Tracy. Among Schoolchildren.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1989.
A recent classic; I know it's assigned in college education classes. Covers a 5th-grade classroom in Massachusetts. By one of the best non-fiction writers around.
Codell, Esmé Raji. Educating Esme: diary of a teacher’s first year.
Chapel Hill, N.C. : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1999.
Definitely a diary, and Codell's personality can be a little hard to take at times. She's almost too exuberant. But it's a quick read.High School
Another one of those interesting contrasts that turn up in my reading. They were published years apart, and I read them years apart. I think they'd make an interesting pair.
Freedman, Samuel G. Small victories : the real world of a teacher, her students, and their high school.
New York : Harper & Row, c1990.
Humes, Edward. School of Dreams making the grade at a top American high school.
Orlando, Fla.: Harcourt, c2003.
You could call this pair "Poor school/rich (or middle-class) school". In Small Victories
journalist Freedman follows a teacher at a poor inner-city high school in New York City. Humes follows multiple students at a high school in Cerritos, California (suburb of Los Angeles). The differences in what life options are available to students at the two schools is heartbreaking. I learned a lot about military recruiting in high schools in Small Victories
. In School of Dreams
the students are under tremendous pressures to achieve academically. I think both high schools have large 2nd-generation-American populations, so that would be an interesting comparison as well. The years chronicled in each book are about a decade apart--another source of comparison and contrast.
Miles Corwin, Elinor Burkett, and Meredith Maran (among others) have all chronicled a year in various high schools in the last decade or so. Samuel Freedman has done another year-in-the-life type book focusing on a church: Upon this rock : the miracles of a black church
Steinberg, Jacques. The Gatekeepers: inside the admissions process of a premier college.
New York: Viking, 2002.
Toor, Rachel. Admissions Confidential: an insider's account of the elite college selection process.
New York : St. Martin's Press, 2001.
Another pairing. Toor's Admission Confidential
is a first-person account of being an admissions officer at Duke University. Reporter Steinberg writes about an admissions counselor at Wesleyan (Connecticut) and five students who apply there in one year. I didn't read these because I'm applying to college (thank goodness, I'm past that stage!) or helping someone else apply to college. I've found it interesting to see how admissions officers "compose" a class, and I like the portraits of the students. I went to a midwestern liberal arts college and these books did make me think about what might have gone on when I was applying. Reading these books also made me thankful I'm not competing for spots at these colleges right now--these are some impressive applicants! I recall liking Toor's book a bit better; maybe it was just an easier read.College
Kluge, P.F. Alma mater : a college homecoming
. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., .
A memoir by a college professor who goes back to teach for a year at his alma mater, Kenyon College, in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Having attended Cornell College, a small liberal arts college in a small town in Iowa, I found it interesting to hear a visiting professor's view on that type of college. Also, I could just relate to the campus, and town, he described. I read it a long time ago, but I recall some poignant descriptions of relationships with students and colleagues. I also seem to remember the writer lived on some on-campus housing.
Coyne, Kevin. Domers.
New York : Viking, 1995.
And now for something completely different...well, except for the region. It's a year in the life of Notre Dame, that big Catholic University in Indiana. Back to a more reportorial style, from the vantage points of several people: students, administrators, faculty, Jesuits who live in the dorms...
Ruggero, Ed. Duty First: A Year In The Life Of West Point And The Making Of American Leaders
. New York : Harper Collins, c2001.
...and something completely different from those two: an account of the first year at West Point. The writer is particularly interested in how West Point develops leaders--he does keep returning to this question. Similar to Domers
in that it's from multiple viewpoints: cadets/students, faculty, and administrators. It profiles quite a few cadets, and not only first-year cadets. You learn how they decided to go to West Point, see them in the classroom and on the field. There's quite a discussion of the honor code. Of course, it's at a military academy--a different kind of discipline from a Catholic university. For another take on contemporary life at West Point, see Absolutely American : Four Years at West Point
by David Lipsky
Allitt, Patrick. I’m the Teacher, You’re the Student a semester in the university classroom.
University of Pennsylvania Press, c2005.
...and back to a diary...more practical and focused than Kluge's. I read this book this spring and I loved it. I'm going to give it to a friend who's a relatively new college instructor. Allitt takes you through an American history survey class (post-Civil War to early 1970s). He teaches at Emory University, in Atlanta. He may be teaching other classes that semester; he may be doing research; but he doesn't write about that. He talks mostly about class interactions, even recounting Q & A's and what he's looking for in student's responses, how he chooses readings, the grading process, how he deals with cheating...the nuts and bolts, but in a very engaging way. He even makes the description of the mechanics of putting his slide shows together interesting. He does have a brief section on his experience as an adult student, and how he as a professor felt on the other end of instruction. I have to admit, I really enjoyed some of the howlers from student papers...but it was interesting just to see the students' writings. On top of all this, he weaves in quite a bit about American history, but again, in a very engaging way. (I was an American history major, and I learned quite a bit from this book). Some of my enthusiasm may come from just having read it, but mostly it was a good read.
And finally, for those who can stand it...Grad/Professional School
Turow, Scott. One L.
New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, c1988. Reprint. Originally published: New York : Putnam, c1977.
Another classic, the first book by the author of legal thrillers. This is the only Turow book I've read, though I did see the movie version of Presumed Innocent. I bought One L
when I was in college, at Prairie Lights
bookstore, in Iowa City. (I spent many a Saturday afternoon at Prairie Lights and Iowa Book and Supply.) Anyway, I read One L
in a weekend. Oh, as for what it's about...Turow takes you through his first year at Harvard Law School. You learn a little bit about law in the bargain.
When I graduated with a bachelor's in history, and didn't know what I wanted to do, lots of people asked if I were going to law school. After reading One L
, I knew I didn't want to go!
Goodrich, Chris. Anarchy and elegance: confessions of a journalist at Yale Law School
/ Boston : Little, Brown, and Co., c1991.
The title pretty much says it all. This one doesn't stand out for me that much, but I still own the book--I haven't given it away.
Goldman, Ari. The search for God at Harvard.
New York : Times Books/Random House, 1991.
And here's a reporter who went to Harvard Divinity School and recounts his year there.
Reid, Robert. Year one : an intimate look inside Harvard Business School.
New York : Avon Books, 1995. Orignially published: New York : W, Morrow, 1994.
From this book I gained an idea of what business consultants actually do, and what one does with a business degree. I really enjoyed reading about the cases. Reid also described some interesting classmates, with varying backgrounds. (Actually, all these grad school books are interesting in showing the types of people who go to grad school.) Now when I hear those candidates on the Apprentice
tv show discuss price points, I have an understanding of what they mean. Truly, this did add to my meager understanding of the business world. For a take on the whole business school experience, not just the first year, at Stanford, there's Snapshots from hell : the making of an MBA
by Peter Robinson, 1994.
It seems that to get a publisher to buy your book about grad/professional school, you should write about an Ivy League school. It'd be interesting to read about the experiences at other schools, especially public universities. Or one written by a woman, a minority, or a foreign student. I think Reid does try to cover that angle, a bit.
Other entries with "Year in the Life" books: June 20, 2006
–restaurants/chefs; August 26, 2006
–part III: theater and business; Oct 11, 2006
–part IVa: sports; Feb 21, 2007
–part IVb: sports; March 28, 2007
–part V: religion; April 6, 2007
–part IVc: sports; and May 2, 2007
–part VI: miscellaneous.