Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004
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*****= An all-time favorite
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****There Are No Shortcuts

by Rafe Esquith

Reviewed January 10, 2005.
Pantheon Books, New York, 2003.  209 pages.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004, #11, Personal Stories and Reflections

The subtitle on the front of this book is “How an inner-city teacher—winner of the American Teacher Award—inspires his students and challenges us to rethink the way we educate our children.”

Rafe Esquith’s motto for his classes is:  “There are no shortcuts.  Be nice.  Work hard.”  He works with fifth-grade students from 6:00 in the morning to 5:30 at night.  His classes perform unabridged Shakespeare plays, read classic literature, compete in math competitions, put on concerts, and travel all over the world.

This book is entertaining, telling stories about the children Rafe Esquith has encountered over the years.  He comes across as cocky at first, but as I read on, I decided it was only well-deserved self-confidence.  He cares deeply about the kids he teaches, and works hard (without extra pay) to help them learn to be outstanding people.

When I was in grad school, one of my housemates taught at the same school in downtown Los Angeles where Rafe Esquith currently teaches.  So I can testify that his nickname of “The Jungle” is well-deserved.  But he still has great parents and great kids who, with a caring teacher, can go places.

This book is also challenging.  He tells stories of administrators and other teachers who have gotten in the way of the work he is trying to do.  He exposes weaknesses in the system, which do harm to our kids.  My favorite line is where one of his sixth-grade students tells an administrator, “Rafe doesn’t believe in pre-algebra.  He says that’s a lie the district tells students who haven’t been properly taught basic arithmetic.”  (His entire sixth-grade class was studying algebra.)  I probably wouldn’t have put it so harshly, but I completely agree with the sentiment, which is why I had my own son study algebra in 6th grade (with the help of a dynamic teacher).

Most of all, this book is inspiring.  It’s wonderful to read about a teacher giving his all to help kids from a disadvantaged area do great things.  I can’t recommend this book strongly enough to any teachers who read this review.  Anyone who wants some inspiring reading about working hard and accomplishing great things will enjoy it as well.

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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