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The Class: A Life-Changing Teacher, His World-Changing Kids, and the Most Inventive Classroom in America

The Class: A Life-Changing Teacher, His World-Changing Kids, and the Most Inventive Classroom in America

by Heather Won Tesoriero

The ClassHeather Won Tesoriero spent a year in Andy Bramante’s science research classroom. Andy, a former analytic chemist, left the corporate world to become a teacher, to make a difference. He and his students are award-winning, and The Class gives an in-depth look, not at what he does in his classroom as a model for cookie cutter programs across the nation, but at the teacher Andy and how he cares about his students and helps them be independent, creative thinkers in science and in their personal lives.

Andy’s students have to apply to be in his class which is centered around independent research and participation in multiple science fairs. Success in  the science fairs can result in prize monies and affect college admissions. Along the way, the students learn advanced science (often in multiple fields), self-discipline, how to use professional scientific instrumentation, research methodology, and presentation skills.

The students in The Class live in tony and highly competitive Greenwich, Connecticut. Most would be considered nerds and most, but certainly not all, are from upper-class families. Many are children of immigrants and those parents are highly motivated to see their children succeed. Many of these very intelligent teenagers are also talented in other areas such as athletics and music. They will all go to good colleges.

The Class is formatted according to the school year with chapters about various students and Andy as they move through the seasons. We read of the students’ personal struggles as teenagers as well as their attempts to find a topic for research and bring their project to fruition. It doesn’t take long to become engaged in their struggles and begin to root for a good outcome.

This book has widespread appeal partly because the author seems to be invested in the subjects of her writing and makes them come to life. I learned a lot about the current world of college admissions. I must admit that the science involved in many of the projects was beyond the scope of my science background, but was explained well. I recommend The Class and wish Andy and his students well in their future endeavors.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Random House (Ballantine) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Nonfiction (Adult), Science

Notes: 1. Some casual swearing throughout the book by both teacher and students.

2. The author made several snide slurs about the current presidency. Those remarks seem unnecessary and politically motivated. They are supposed to reflect conversations she heard, but they certainly seemed couched in her language, especially a disparaging comment about the First Lady. A writer selects what to share from the many words and events that pass before her. I think in this case she should have asked herself two questions as she put pen to paper: Is it necessary to tell my story? Is it kind?

Publication:   September 4, 2018—Random House (Ballantine)

Memorable Lines:

Andy would have it no other way. To him, the whole reason he got into the teaching business was to work side by side with kids, to develop the relationships and let the science unfurl in all of its glorious unpredictability.

“All day, we’re telling the kids, do this, read this, use this—and if you don’t, you fail. They need a space where it’s okay to fail.” —Nancy Shwartz, Cos Cob school librarian and creator of Maker Space, a place at her school where creativity is prized

“We’ve moved from education, teaching people how to think, to training, teaching people how to bark on time. And highly structured curriculum and even scripted curriculum in some places—the teacher reads the lesson. Those are not places where someone is being educated. It can’t be… Which is more valuable to the person and to the society? I can memorize something and give it back to you in an orderly fashion, even in a comprehensively well-expressed fashion. Or I can think. To me, it’s not even a call.” —Thomas Forget, Ph.D., professor and Andy’s mentor

Carnegie’s Maid–sacrificing for family

Carnegie’s Maid

by Marie Benedict

Carnegie's MaidCarnegie’s Maid, a work of historical fiction, attempts to explain what could have caused Andrew Carnegie, a ruthless businessman, to become a philanthropist and founder of the Carnegie Libraries. As a former impoverished Scottish immigrant, he fights his way to the top echelons of America’s monied, sometimes stepping on the backs of other immigrants to get there. Author Marie Benedict has created a lady’s maid from Ireland who is on a mission to support her Irish Catholic Fenian family. Her Clara is hard-working, smart, and focused. An opportunist, she takes the place of another Clara becoming a lady’s maid rather than a scullery maid making herself privy to the family’s secrets and business machinations.

As seen in Benedict’s other excellent work of historical fiction, The Other Einstein, the novel Carnegie’s Maid demonstrates the author’s intensive research and attention to detail. As I read I found myself wishing for a main character based on an actual person as in The Other Einstein. I assume the details and records of Carnegie’s life are just too sketchy to provide such a character. Benedict has taken the immigrant culture of the times, the certainty that Carnegie’s mother would have had a lady’s maid, the mystery of Carnegie’s altruism, and his delay in marriage as the basis for her fictional Clara. There is much more supposition in this book, but it is well written and not outside the realm of possibility.

I enjoyed the tale with its details about the difficult lives of the Irish both in Great Britain and in the United States. It paints a picture of the U.S. as a very difficult land of opportunity, with no handouts, and even fewer options for women. Gender, ethnic background, religion, money, family, and education all play a role in the highly stratified, unofficial class systems of the time.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Sourcebooks Landmark for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction

Notes: by the author of The Other Einstein

Publication:   January 16, 2018—Sourcebooks Landmark

Memorable Lines:

“These Catholic Irish running from the havoc wreaked by their famine and pouring onto American shores are not like the hard-working Protestant Irish who immigrated in earlier years. This new Catholic crop is rough and uneducated, and they’ll destroy the fabric of this country’s shaky democracy if we let them, especially in these days of Civil War unrest, just like they did back home in Scotland when they stole factory jobs away from Scottish men and women. An Irish Catholic servant might suffice as a scullery maid but not as my personal maid.”

For whom was I crying? for all the immigrants like the Lambs, who came to America seeking a better life but settled instead for a soot-infested home and dangerous work in the mills and gave thanks for it?

For the first time, I realized how alike my situation was to that of Mr. Carnegie. Although the scale was quite different, the stakes were not. The well-being of both our families rested on our success.

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