Saturday, September 14, 2013

First Class

I've found a gem, a book that I can't wait to read.

Hey, I'm an author. I find gems and jewels and treasures in books. I was going to order it on Kindle, but no, I want to hold it in my hands, to devour it slowly as I flip from one section to the other. So I ordered it and must wait until next week to read beyond the few "look inside" online selections.

It's about a school and according to the author, "My protagonist is a building." Just like Lessons Learned.

It has a black and white, sepia maybe, cover that fits the appropriate era, not the flashy "read me now" cover that is so popular today. Just like Lessons Learned.

It is full of interviews with living characters that tell story after story about real life at school. Just like Lessons Learned.

This book should live up to its name, First Class, if I go by the reviews I've read and the Book TV show I just watched. It has a subtitle that elaborates on the claim: The Legacy of Dunbar, America's First Black Public High School. Little wonder why I'm fascinated. I'd like to say it's akin to mine. It's a collective memoir, a collage as the forward states. It follows the history of a school from its beginnings in the 1870's to the present day state-of-the-art facility. And, like Lessons Learned, it follows the history of the community that runs parallel to the history of the school and parallel to the history of the United States.

Its author, Alison Stewart, spent countless hours interviewing former students, teachers, children of students, anyone who had the slightest connection to the school or its graduates. Sounds familiar. Listening to her today as she explained her project, I felt a kinship that only a fellow researcher/interviewer/author could know. The hours in front of a microfische. The long distant telephone calls to people with sharp memories or aged recollections. The tears at stories that tug at the heart. The white rabbit diversions. The, as she explained, "Oh honey, I don't have anything to tell you" comments that were followed by the most unbelievably fantastic stories.

Been there, done that.

Her book followed black high school students in urban Washington, DC. Mine followed white elementary school students in very rural, mountainous western North Carolina. How could they compare? Oh, my, in so many ways I don't know where to begin.

Teacher expectation, aspirations, inspirations. Disproving that children from "another" kind of background can't learn. Parental involvement. "If we messed up, the story got home before we did" kind of community, as one gentleman today stated. Dedication to learning despite what the world has against you. Spirit. Soul.

One question that Ms. Stewart said she asked every former student was one I never considered: "When was a time when you knew Dunbar made a difference in your life?"

Drats. I should have asked that. But wait. Looking back, the majority of those I interviewed answered that in their own ways. After all, these were elementary children, not high school. But they knew. This school made a difference in their lives.

Inner city. Rural mountain. The real lessons learned from school are never, never forgotten.

I'm so looking forward to next week's mail.

Catch of the day,


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