Tracy Kidder. Among Schoolchildren. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989.
Among Schoolchildren is, in essence, an account of one year in the working life of an elementaryschool teacher, "Christine Zajac," in the somewhat decayed industrial town of Holyoke, Massachusetts. In this work, Tracy Kidder, best known for his account of computers, The Soul of a New Machine, has presented what amounts to a "nonfiction novel" about Chris Zajac. As a vivid account of teaching a culturallymixed (mainly "white" and Puerto Rican) class of fifthgraders in conditions that are more nearly innercity than suburban, Among Schoolchildren is a lively account of the experience of teaching or at least, of Mrs. Zajac's experience of teaching, as presumably witnessed by Kidder himself.
Wellwritten by an author with a background in both journalism and sociology, Among Schoolchildren could be heartily recommended to the general reader who wonders what teaching is like, with two important provisos: we do not know how typical are the experiences of Room 205 of Kelly School and for that matter, we do not really know how the author's view of Room 205 compares to Mrs. Zajac's view, to that of her students or their parents, to Al Laudato's (the school principal), or to that of another outside observer. It may be said that Kidder is more successful as a journalist than as a educational sociologist. The picture he draws is vivid, but it lacks perspective; it is not adequately enough triangulated to serve us as a reliable sociological report of the school experience.
To begin with, we may consider Kidder's methodology which we must do speculatively and interpolatively, since he says nothing at all about it. His authorial pose is that of the invisible narrator. There is no introduction, and the author himself appears editorially only in the brief "acknowledgement and sources" at the end of the book (pp. 33340). We may infer t...