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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Carnival Review!

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, flora and fauna of all ages -- step right up to the 134th edition of the Carnival of Education! This time it's hosted over at Matthew K Tabor's place, and it's chock-full of educational goodness!

And not only that, but directly in front of the Carnival is Matthew's outstanding review of my book, Learn Me Good!! Sure, I've linked to his page, but I don't think he'll mind too much if I just outright snatch the words from his page and copy them here...

Published by Matthew August 29th, 2007

Learn Me Good, John Pearson
211 pages, 2006; ISBN-13: 978-1-4116-6589-7

Jack Woodson isn’t your typical elementary school teacher. First, he’s a man; second, he’s not an idealist fresh out of college; and third, he “has forty children, and all of them have different mothers.”

But that’s education blogger John Pearson’s identity in Learn Me Good, an irreverent, anecdotal look at life as a first-year elementary teacher.

Jack Woodson was the unfortunate victim of job cuts at Heat Pumps Unlimited. Faced with finding a new job that made use of his engineering credentials, Woodson decides to take a hard right turn into the world of third grade mathematics. What he discovered, endured and laughed about during that first year in the trenches is the basis for Learn Me Good.

Woodson would want you to know that in those trenches he’s a Lieutenant commanding a platoon of rag-tag 8 and 9 year olds, all of whom are armed to the teeth with four-function math skills. Oh, and he’s got the weirdest case of trenchfoot anyone has ever seen. Who knew that graham cracker crumb residue could manifest itself into an infection? At least it’s a sweet-smelling infection…

Such is the style and tone of Woodson’s e-mails to former colleague Fred Bommerson, greeted throughout the book as F-Bomm, Fredster, and Big Poppa Heat Pump, to name a few. In e-mail after e-mail, Woodson describes classroom scenarios that cause him to shake his head, drop his jaw, laugh out loud and everything in between.

The supporting cast of characters in Learn Me Good give Woodson plenty of opportunity to reflect on the quirks of teaching in an elementary school. There are adult oddballs like the district employee who checks Woodson’s students for vision problems - but not before selling the third-graders on the coolness of glasses by proclaiming, “I think glasses are SEXY!” Though Woodson takes the surprise in stride, he can’t help but tell Fred that it was awkward and nothing short of “airing a commercial for Bacardi rum in the middle of an episode of Sesame Street.”

But Woodson doesn’t just pluck the low-hanging comical fruits. He humanizes – or is it humorizes? – students like Esteban, an energetic kid who enthusiastically yells answer after answer without stopping to think whether they’re right [he also has a penchant for filling in test bubbles randomly]. And even the terrors such as the “clinically insane” Chandra, whom Woodson affectionately nicknames “Lucifer,” are regarded no worse than “bad data points” when they clearly have earned the status of a public school urban legend.

It’s not all humor and pop culture references, though. Pearson exposes his energy, command of pedagogy, and curriculum on nearly every page. He doesn’t sweat the small stuff. His blood pressure is largely stable. He isn’t political, doesn’t wail out diatribes on No Child Left Behind and isn’t out to reform the American education system.

Woodson wants to understand the quiet ones, the Spanish speakers and the hyperactive-but-harmless. He just wants to teach and love his kids the best he can and he’s going to do it with a smile.

Purists of the written word may lament the e-mail structure of the book. Pearson avoids a novel-like progression and goes with a unique schema that, while fresh and surprisingly effective, lends itself to reading in short bursts instead of chapter sessions. A particular omission in that structure is the lack of replies from Fred Bommerson; though the character of Woodson sums up Fred’s reactions in the beginning of his e-mails, a few notes directly from Fred might break up the series of familiar blueprints.

Learn Me Good has a place on shelves in all levels of the edusphere from the boiler room to the penthouse in the Ivory Tower. Policy wonks will find that it cures frequent heartburn related to frustration, albeit temporarily; parents will be refreshed as they read candid reactions from a teacher who they’d want to befriend in real life; teachers with this book on their desk will find that its good-natured but relevant anecdotes will invigorate even the most atrophied smiling muscles.

But there’s a caveat to those teachers: be prepared for the longing you’ll feel en route to the teacher’s lounge when you think, “Why can’t I have a Jack Woodson at my school?”

John Pearson’s Learn Me Good is available for purchase at

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