Inspiration From The Distant Past

Inspiration From The Distant Past
Found note in an old book... warms the cockles of my bookish heart...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Blackboard Jungle

Finished The Blackboard Jungle on Tuesday. What a good book! It was a critically acclaimed movie as well. Can't believe I missed out on both all these years.

The book was published in 1954. It tells the story of an idealistic first year teacher's experience teaching disaffected boys at an inner city vocational highschool in New York City in the 1950s.

Didn't realise that the plague of inner city school problems started so long ago. I thought it was a relatively new phenomenon. Funny, that back then, the thugs and problem kids were placed in vo-tech schools. Nowadays, these type of kids go to alternative high schools. Vo-tech schools are considered very nice in my state and are a great resource for the students who are not college bound.

Here is a photo of the actual book I read. It is a later edition but still has a great retro picture on the cover. Such drama! Speaking of drama, love the NY Times blurb on the cover: A bombshell... frays the nerves like a scream for help in a dark alley. What a great line!

Oh, I bet folks were all atwitter when this came out in the 50s. Don't get me wrong: This book is a fascinating social commentary
that stands the test of time. It is just that our society has continued to disintegrate at a rapid pace since the 50s. The everyday local news is so horrific that people become desensitized, I think. Wouldn't it be nice if we could still be shocked and dismayed so easily...

Interesting to see how racism and sexism of the period is portrayed in The Blackboard Jungle. I did, sometimes, express a mental 'eeyew' to myself-- especially when reading from the wife's viewpoint. Amusing that the school had separate lounges/lunch rooms for male and female teachers. How times have changed. So grateful for the feminist movement!

I particularly enjoyed the dynamics between all the groups of characters. Between the new teacher (Richard Didier) and the burnt out career teachers. Between the teachers and the typically clueless inept administrators. Between the new teacher and the sexy female teacher on the prowl. Between the new teacher and the students... lots of interesting tension there.

Educators will especially relate to the flopsweat, the convictions, the doubts, the discipline problems, the attempts to reach students who have given up and the surprising miracle breakthroughs that make teaching worthwhile.

I wanted to mention a bit about the author, Evan Hunter. Interesting fellow and very prolific writer. He wrote crime fiction under the pseudonym, Ed McBain. (actually Evan Hunter isn't his real name either) I don't typically read crime fiction but I have friends who rave about his 87th Precinct series. He also wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's movie The Birds. If you would like to learn more about the author, here is a link to the official website:

I didn't plan to seek out the movie but think I might now to round out the whole experience. Changed my mind after finding out that Sidney Poitier is in the movie. Love Sidney Poitier!

If you've never read The Blackboard Jungle, give it a look. Even though there have been many variations of this theme in books and movies over the years, this one is the original. The book that started a genre, imagine that...


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