Nicholson Baker, Substitute Teacher

Baker_photo460Malcolm Harris at The New Republic:

Baker is often frustrated with the material he’s asked to push on students, and this reaches its peak with a graphic Holocaust documentary called Auschwitz: Death Camp starring Oprah and Elie Wiesel that he shows to successive 10th-grade English classes. Watching piles of bodies, Baker thinks,

I knew that this was the wrong documentary to be showing to a group of choiceless, voiceless high school kids at eight-thirty on a Monday morning, in connection with a compare-and-contrast media-studies assignment … These high schoolers were being tortured to the point of numbness and indifference by gruesome imagery—and the Holocaust was being trivialized through inattention, both at the same time. Why was this happening? Why was I a part of this?

By the end of the video two girls are doing a cheerleader-style H-O-L-O-C-A-U-S-T! chant, and Baker doesn’t know whom to blame.

Classroom technology has changed a lot since Baker last visited—even since I did—and having a substitute isn’t the break for students it used to be if their daily progress is watched by a school iPad. Some teachers take a curatorial approach, delegating a large portion of their pedagogy to instructional apps, Youtube videos, and downloaded worksheets. On day nine Baker hears two teachers discussing iPad assignments when they have subs, “You delete them without reading them?” one asks. “Yes,” the other says, “They don’t do anything anyway.”

more here.