A former teacher, coach and principal with deep roots in Manhattan’s edgy West Side shares his experiences, encounters and ideas on where education goes wrong in this sparkling, thoughtful and entertaining memoir.
Author Gil Francisco harkens back to the late ’50s and ’60s, recalling his blue-collar neighborhood that runs the gamut from stickball, scooters and doo-wops to “gangs, guns, heroin and hookers offering ‘half-and-halfs.’ ” He shares harrowing bits where the gang and drug culture rule students’ lives in a place where it isn’t uncommon to see neighbors and friends die violent deaths.
Briefly escaping to Kansas for his education, Francisco returns and immerses himself as an urban teacher and coach. He understands his students’ poverty and how it “breeds despair, broken homes, and homelessness and leads kids to gangs.” His difficult task is burrowing into his students’ hearts and heads to help them succeed despite it all.
Some do, some don’t. Albert, a boy with social deficiencies becomes a finalist in the Westinghouse Talent Search. Others, though, suffer unfair and tragic fates. After becoming a principal, the author hits a political roadblock that thwarts any effort to address the real issues negatively impacting his students.
This engaging writer paints vivid scenarios with rhythmic, often poetic prose, as in describing the smell of starch from the Chinese laundry or the tunnels where his altar boy buddies practice doo-wop for the fine echo. Equally illuminating scenes capture the pain of tragic events, while the author can also turn on a dime with soft humor, such as in discussing the nicknames and quirks of the local cops (Jimmy Cagney, Batman) and his priest (Father Oops —for his knack for tripping off the altar).
In short, this eloquent, tender and touching gem of a book packs a punch. Executed with flair, it is definitely ready for prime time.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.