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Keith Benson

Urban Education
Dr. Beth Rubin
3.18.2007

Response to Holler If You Hear Me: The Education of a Teacher and His Students

For my reading I chose to read Holler If You Hear Me by 1996 Golden Apple

Award winner, Greg Michie. This book is about the experiences of a white, middle-class

southerner teaching in an urban Chicago middle school. Throughout the book, Michie,

intertwines prose about his past days teaching in Quincy Middle School, with present-

tense narrative about students whom he has taught. While it was surprising and

interesting to see a teacher reach out to students of years past to see how they are faring

in life currently, it came to my realization that this was probably done for the purposes of

writing this book.

Having said that, allow me to respectfully declare this book a waste of time to

read, and waste of ink to write. While this may seem harsh, as a teacher in an urban area,

this book accomplishes nothing more than what Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers

had done on the big screen; congratulating altruistic whites teachers, while sympathizing

for minorities who don’t have a chance. In book form, however, we are acquainted with a

white teacher wants to teach in an urban area to “help out.” At book’s end, Michie struck

me as the prototypical Teach for America “teacher.”

For one hundred-seventy six pages, Michie rehashes the ills and pathologies of

urban America and urban education. He comments on the aging buildings, apathetic

veteran teachers, high priority given to standardized testing, lack of resources, and of

course, the dysfunctional families. This book is reads like a screenplay for a made of TV

movie.
What is ironic is that while reading this book this week, the Courier Post, my

local newspaper, ran a front page article hailing two white elementary school teachers for

giving up high paying job opportunities to “teach kids in Camden.” I was nearly sick to

my stomach that day, and to further my nauseating feeling left by that article, I had to

continue reading Michie’s propaganda. (I truly believe, that can stay in the district an

teach until I’m sixty an never see a sentence written about me. And also, I’ve never seen

an article like that written about a black or Puerto Rican teacher in Camden. I don’t think

that is a coincidence; though I might be mistaken.)

In my opinion, Michie’s book is most flawed in that it does not address anything

more than classroom level observations. No analysis is given as to the origin of the

problem he decries; only “pie-in-the-sky” solutions and slogans like, “We can make a

difference. We can change the world. (181)” What is a teacher in an urban area supposed

to glean from reading this book? That the school systems aren’t helping all children? That

teaching in an urban area is tough? I could have said that in a three sentences.

Furthermore, Michie’s premise of teaching in an urban area to “help out” seems

utterly insulting to the teachers already teaching and, to the students attending school in

urban areas. Urban students are not charity cases in need of pity or charity from white

teachers, but what is needed is a legion of instructors dedicated to students’ well being –

white or black. I sensed an inherent racism in Michie’s “It’s not their fault” voice or

stance that, from my perspective, equates to him calling his black students “niggers” or

Mexican students “wetbacks.” While the terrain and tactics maybe different in teaching in

an urban area, every student deserves and needs the same thing from their teachers – their

best.
Holler If You Hear Me’s goal is to entertain a reader unfamiliar to urban America.

But to teachers already in the field, nothing is learned and nothing is gained except

reading more of what is visible, daily, in our own classrooms.