School for thought

Confessions of a Bad Teacher

First, let's be clear: John Owens seems to be a very good teacher. The problem he addresses in Confessions of a Bad Teacher: The Shocking Truth About the Front Lines of American Public Education (Sourcebooks, $13.99) is that individual teachers often instruct with their hands tied. Owens left a high-profile publishing job to teach in South Bronx, where he discovered that his students had problems (understanding English, learning disabilities, troubled homes, poverty) that made it impossible for them to work at the level expected. He documents—in enraging detail—the way that the institutional emphasis on checking off “skill sets” actually keeps students from gaining any actual skills.