At least half of the members of our book club are teachers, or have been at some point. And those of us who aren’t happen to enjoy a good prep school book every once in awhile, so this was a natural selection for us.
The simple storyline of this book is as follows: a recent Columbia graduate, Anna Taggert is passionate about teaching despite her parents’ protests about it being a waste of her Ivy League degree. She finds herself lucky to receive a position at a Manhattan Upper East Side private school, but soon discovers it’s nothing like she expected.
First of all, she lives in what she considers poverty. Then the administration comes down hard on her when she starts teaching “real” lessons, saying that she’s trying to make the rest of them look bad. Everything caters to the families who are listed as “Friends” of the school (aka those who donate the most money). Her students boss her around, her students’ parents bribe her and threaten her, and she is pressured into not giving actual grades. More outrageous stuff happens.
But then Anna discovers the mysterious and lucrative tutoring world. As soon as she realizes she can score $200 an hour or more, she’s hooked. She balks a little at first when she is slowly suckered into actually DOING her clients’ homework, but the justifications soon set in. Before long she’s not only a part of the private school world that she despised, she’s the epitome of it.
Schooled was a quick, easy read that I found myself mildly fascinated with and appalled by. But in the end, it was too shallow. We only get to know a few characters, and they are one-sided. No real relationships are formed. There is a single plot without any depth. Although it was written to make a point, I have my doubts as to how realistic the story actually is.
We get a picture of students who can barely write a coherent paragraph being carried through the most prestigious schools because tutors are doing their work for them. They make it into Ivy League schools and land big-wig jobs simply because of their name or their family’s money. While that may happen on occasion, I don’t think it happens in such a general way as this book made it seem.
In the end, Anna returns to her morals and figures out a way to actually teach. The problem is, her solution was obvious from the very beginning.
If you’d like to read along, next month’s book is Labor Day by Joyce Maynard.