Believe it or not, summer is almost over. Even as you read this, students are shining apples (just kidding, they’re actually Snapchatting), and teachers are dusting off chalkboards, because the new school year is just around the corner. But as we all know, when it comes to education, the most important lessons aren’t always found in textbooks. Check out these four novels in which teachers and students run just a little bit off the rails:
Dear Committee Members, by Julie Schumacher
I laughed out loud when I read the tagline: “Finally, a novel that puts the ‘pissed’ back into ‘epistolary.’” A novel written entirely in letters can be tough to pull off, but Professor Jay Fitger is such an unforgettable character, so crude and cantankerous and, yes, pissed off, that the format never gets old. On the contrary, Fitger’s poison-pen letters to various university officials and employers just keep getting funnier—and more poignant. Trying to help a student who’s lost his financial aid, Fitger writes, “I’m making this last-minute request with every scrap of human warmth I’ve got left…I’m the tide propelling a shipwrecked man to your doorstep.” Ultimately, Fitger is so rancorous only because the world he loves so much is disappearing: the world of nonprofit, non-corporate higher education. If you’re still paying off student loans (your own or your child’s—or both), Dear Committee Members is sure to strike a chord.
Mike Tyson Slept Here, by Chris Huntington
When recent college grad Brant Gilmour gets rejected by the Peace Corps, he decides to make a difference in the U.S. by teaching at a prison. Thus begins his own education in the ways of the Indiana Department of Corrections. A trainer warns him that the inmates will size him up in a few months and try to take advantage, but Brant finds to his disgust that, “With me, they’d realized they had no need to wait. I was too young. Too stupid. Someone punked me the first few hours.” Stolen from, lied to, and expected to fail from day one, Brant struggles to hold on to his idealism. Unfortunately, the con games and malfeasance aren’t just coming from the prisoners—a cynical coworker, Isabel, may pose the greatest danger of all. The author spent 10 years teaching in the prison system, and in this heartfelt novel every bit of that experience shows.
Death of the Black-Haired Girl, by Robert Stone
Professor Steven Brookman teaches literature at a small New England college that has seen better days. In the midst of an affair with his most gifted student, Maud, Steven discovers his wife is pregnant and promptly dumps the girl. But Maud is not going to be so easily dismissed. One terrible night she accosts Steven on the street, and the resulting scuffle ends with her being hit by a car, “falling like a booted Icarus out of a lighted sky in which there was somehow falling snow.” As it happens, Maud’s father Eddie is a retired cop with a guilty conscience. Convinced that her death is a judgment upon him, Eddie sets out to unravel the truth of her last days.
Election, by Tom Perrotta
Long before his book The Leftovers became a hit on TV, Tom Perrotta was writing quirky stories about small-town America, and Election is one of his best. The battle between student overachiever Tracy Flick and history teacher Mr. M is part slapstick, part duel to the death. Mr. M blames Tracy for disgracing his fellow teacher Dave, who was fired after sleeping with her. What bothers Mr. M most, though, is Tracy herself. Perky and ambitious, she’s the kind of kid who’s sure to succeed in life, and knowing that drives him absolutely bonkers. His efforts to sabotage Tracy’s election as class president will have you laughing, cringing, and flying through the pages all at once.
What’s your favorite book about miseducation?