Friday, November 26, 2010

School Blues* by Daniel Pennac

Every now and then you come across a book that'll make you do things, read things, and most of all live better. Special Topics in Calamity Topics made us want to read more books simply by putting up a list of reading. (I like lists, probably too much. Lists are inspiring, logical, effective and sexy. But that's for a whole other therapy session.) Pennac's book made me want to cross my t's and dot my i's when it comes to grammar. And not just in French, although it did inspire me to improve my French (thus the pile of books such as Essential French Grammar and The Concise Oxford French Dictionary on my desk now), but also my English and Finnish.

Because Pennac loves words and language and grammar.

School Blues is about school and the bad student in the back of the class, the one who "didn't get it". It's about the state of French education the mistakes that have been made by politicians and education board and whonot who's been in charge for the past ten or twenty years.

And it's about the teachers. Pennac digs into his own experiences as a student and as a teacher, and shares his experiences with us. And it is through these experiences, the discussions with his no-hope students and his inspiring teachers, his letter to his mother asking her to send him off to the military because school is not his thing, and the thoughts and experiences of the youth he comes across both as a teacher and as a visiting author, that we get to see that there is hope for these kids and they do want to get involved.

Getting involved is the big point Pennac is making. We need to be present. In the classroom as students and teachers, and in life. Right here, right now. Stop hiding and start living. And fix your grammar 'cause it is through language we get to experience everything.

It was a weird experience to read School Blues, 'cause it didn't feel like reading non-fiction. And yet, that's essentially what the book was (though sold at fiction section). It wasn't weighed down by too many facts and dates and references, it was a solid opinion from a very educated point of view. That of a bad student who did well.

School Blues is a very inspiring book without being sugary, over-the-top cheerleaderly or even a inspirational book in the first place. Anyone who is, has ever been or will ever be a student, parent or a teacher should read this book.

* Original title, Chagrin d'├ęcole.

p.s. Don't trust me? Want to know more? Guardian weighed in on the book, too.

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