For several years, I have listed my favorite books—or top ten education prognostications—on Teacher in a Strange Land. I love end-of-year roundups like this. ‘List’ titles draw traffic. I learned that 20 years ago, when I first set out to blog ‘from the classroom’ (although I was really blogging from my living room, on the family’s single computer). Everybody likes to analyze, compare and name favorites. Everybody likes to look back, and pretend there’s a clean slate ahead.
But 2022 was the ultimate strange-land year, here in Michigan. I think it was the first year where more or less permanent changes, wrought by the one-two punch of a corrupt presidency and a global pandemic, have altered the way we live and work. And, possibly, think.
All the local angst—school board hostilities, county commission craziness, health department firings, attempts to kidnap the Governor—sprang from that discontent. People want better-paying jobs. They want affordable housing. They want good—free—public schools for their kids. But they also want someone to listen to their woes, real and imagined, and confirm their biases, even if those biases are life-threatening.
Living through a pandemic reminds us: Life is short. Might as well get it right, say what we think.
Best things that happened to all of us in 2022:
- The midterm elections (nope, the country isn’t going to hell, yet)
- Kids went back to school (triggering other viral waves, but still…)
- Biden did most things right (including supporting Ukraine). I can honestly say that although I was not a Biden fan prior to 2020—he came in 12th on my list of candidates—I am very happy that Uncle Joe has been at the helm and accepts good advice.
- The January 6th Committee Hearings. I seriously doubt that Donald Trump will experience significant consequences from the ugly mess he made of the US Presidency. But I am grateful to know that the nation was able to see the truth, in digestible bites.
Best things that happened to me in 2022:
- I ran for office–and lost. Running for County Commission was a great experience, however. The district where I live has been ruby red for some 30 years–see that little pink square in Leelanau County? Dems came closer than we have in forever to turning the entire county blue. Running for office has been a bucket-list goal, and the conversations I had with people I’d never met were eye-opening.
- I got to travel, again, another bucket-list kind of thing. My husband and I have spent February in Arizona since 2016, interrupted by the pandemic. This year, fully vaxxed and boosted, we drove to Arizona—and immediately tested positive. We got free, drive-through PCR tests to confirm. And about a half-hour after being notified that we were indeed positive, we got a call from our local health department, 2000 miles away: Were we OK? (OK-ish) Did we think we needed Paxlovid? A doctor visit? (not really) Faith in my local health care system? Restored.
I also went to Europe for two weeks this fall—and that was splendid.
Best Media Consumed, 2022:
- Favorite Fictional Book: Demon Copperhead (Barbara Kingsolver). Kingsolver is an author whose works I never miss, and always love. Demon Copperhead is simultaneously hilarious and tragic, and Kingsolver finds a way to meld the ongoing opioid crisis, 19th century Dickensian literature and the American passion for football—and reveal what’s really going on in all three.
- Favorite Non-fiction Book: Jesus and John Wayne (Kristin DuMez). DuMez teaches at Calvin University, near my hometown and alma mater of lots of super-conservative family members, most of whom would vehemently disagree with DuMez’s conclusions here: that evangelical support was not a shocking aberration from their views but a culmination of evangelicals’ long-standing embrace of militant masculinity, presenting the man as protector and warrior. Meticulously researched, and highly recommended.
- Best school-y media: Abbott Elementary (TV show) and Tracy Flick Can’t Win (novel, Tom Perotta). Everybody knows about Abbott Elementary—warm-hearted and shockingly close to truth, right down to the egotistical, incompetent principal—but Tracy Flick is also that rarity: a book set in a school that feels very real.
I generally shoot to read 100 books in a year—it’s been my (achieved) goal for a decade. This year, I will clock in (if I’m lucky) at 85 books. The traveling and campaigning bit into reading time. But that general angst—the sense that things will never be ‘back to normal’—is also a factor. It’s hard to relax, to concentrate, to give up a long afternoon living in another world.
Finally, the Bad News is About Schools:
I see the culture, in general, in flux right now. The economy, national politics, health care, media—all of them, from Twitter to The Former Guy, will continue to evolve. But I am incredibly depressed about public education, always the scrappy underdog in the question about how we build citizenship and strengthen the workforce.
I became a teacher in 1974, and have observed public schools, up close and personal, ever since. I’ve seen good times and bad (although I wasn’t able to accurately evaluate, in the moment). But reading my fellow educators’ social media feeds is…heartbreaking, no other word. Should I stay or should I go? Have your students lost all motivation, like mine? Here’s a picture of me taking my 300 personal books out of my classroom. Etc.
In an excellent post, my blogging hero, Jan Resseger, captures the zeitgeist in a single title– Culture Wars at Schools Increase: Undermine Educators, Block Respectful Dialogue, and Make Students Feel Unsafe and Invisible.
That pretty much says it all.
Maybe public education is a lagging indicator—maybe the good news about competent government and public awareness, will eventually track back to the cornerstone institution of American progress, public schools. But I think folks like Ron DeSantis and Glenn Youngkin, and countless others, have targeted public institutions for children as low-hanging fruit, perennially underfunded and unstable, and gone after them.
The damage might be permanent.