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Holler If You Hear Me

Book review for C&I 508
by

Cailin Ellis

on 15 November 2012

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Transcript of Holler If You Hear Me

An analytical book review Holler If You Hear Me In his book "Holler If You Hear Me", Gregory Michie describes his experience working with inner city youth in the tough schools of Chicago. Throughout the book, he incorporates narratives by his students that help the reader understand the students' perspectives and shed light on Michie's experience. Summary As the book begins, Michie is working as a substitute teacher and has had no formal training in education. The reader sees him progress as a teacher and eventually land a full-time job on the South side of Chicago. In each chapter, Michie describes a particular experience and then reflects on what he learned and how the experience helped to shape his methodology and perspective.
The reader experiences these lessons vicariously through Michie and learns the trials, challenges, and triumphs that define his career working with a diverse, and often troubled, urban population of students. Michie's stories provide valuable insight into the teaching profession and illuminate some of the pressing issues that face our educational system today. Mr. Michie The Students At the end of every chapter, Michie includes a vignette that showcases the voice of one of his students. These glimpses into his students' lives add a very powerful and poignant component to the book. The students' voices provide nuanced insight into the issues that Michie encounters in his classroom. In describing their lives, or an influential experience, the students show what Michie cannot see. In a sense, these vignettes offer a behind-the-scenes perspective; they illuminate the students' personal thoughts, experiences, and struggles. They often explain the reasons for the students' actions and behavior. We hear from a diverse array of students who each offer a different perspective and insight into Michie's experience, and highlight the importance of being mindful of our students. Connections to Course Concepts and Readings Lisa Delpit In Lisa Delpit's "The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People's Children" (1988) she discusses the use of language in instruction. She states that progressive modes of oral language and instruction tend to be indirect, however students of color learn to distinguish authority and follow directions through more direct language. This is an effect of two of the rules that Delpit discusses in her article: "The rules of the culture of power are a reflection of the rules of the culture of those who have power." and, "If you are not already a participant in the culture of power, being told explicitly the rules of that culture makes acquiring power easier" (Delpit, 1998, p. 282), This concept is visible throughout Michie's "Holler If You Hear Me".
Michie is a young white male who grew up in middle class suburbia. The majority of his students are African American or Hispanic who have grown up in urban poverty. Michie explains that most of his colleagues run strictly authoritarian classrooms, but he wants to establish a more relaxed and open environment. However, Michie also repeatedly describes his difficulty with classroom management and establishing himself as a leader. In this case, Michie is using the rules of his culture of power without considering the needs of his students.
Michie describes the instance in which he realized the cultural disconnect, "The class wanted me to take a stronger hold, to become more authoritarian. That was the style of discipline many of them were used to, and they respected it... Raynard, a tall and witty kid who was one of the group's natural leaders, often lingered after class to serve as my mentor.. 'You gotta be meaner, Mr. Michie,' he would say... 'That's what [we] understand'" (Michie, 1999, p. 6). The students need Michie to be more direct with them, and although this was not his preferred method of oral communication he begins to recognize that he must set aside his personal preferences to better serve his students. Linda Darling-Hammond The schools that Michie works at in Chicago are prime examples of many of the issues Linda Darling-Hammond describes in her chapter, "The Anatomy of Inequality: How the Opportunity Gap is Constructed" (2010). According to Darling-Hammond, three of the major factors that influence the opportunity gap are: resegregation and unequal schooling, unequal access to qualified teachers, and dysfunctional learning environments. All three of these factors are present in the schools that Michie works in.
First, Michie works on the South side of Chicago, a poor area that is almost exclusively populated by minorities. Therefore, the schools that he works in reflect the demographics of the people who live nearby. Second, Michie himself is certainly not a qualified teacher. Although we see him grow and progress as an educator, he has never had any formal training as a teacher, and lacks a teaching certificate. He is hired on as a full-time teacher after working as a part-time substitute to earn extra money and learns to teach though experience. Therefore, although he eventually develops rapport with his students his methodology is not informed by best practices. Finally, the schools that Mr. Michie works in all seem to be dysfunctional learning environments. The schools are so hot that the students cannot stay awake, gang violence often erupts in the hallways and classrooms, the facilities are too small to accommodate the student population, and one of Michie's classrooms is a converted broom closet. One example from chapter two illustrates all three issues. Michie has just been hired in his first full-time teaching position when the principle explains, "Ninety-six percent of our kids are of Mexican descent... the majority are first or second generation immigrants. We're extremely overcrowded. The school was built for 800 students, but we're almost up to 1500 now" (p. 21). Reading "Holler If You Hear Me" in relation to Darling-Hammond's article, reveals the reasons why many schools today do little to shrink the opportunity gap. Stratification and Reproduction Theory DeMarrais and LeCompte's (1999) definitions of stratification and reproduction theory are reflected throughout Michie's "Holler If You Hear Me". Social stratification is starkly seen in the contrast of socioeconomic differences depicted in the book. The students often discuss their lives and environments compared with the "Gold Coast" just across the city. The difference of schools and opportunities between neighborhoods reflects the existence of social hierarchies that are often divided along racial lines. The students are acutely aware of the social stratification and, seeing no other option, often turn to drug dealing in an effort to rise to a higher socioeconomic standing.
Reproduction theory is also evident in the situations described in Michie's book. The schools that Michie works in perpetuate the status quo. The students in these schools do not gain a quality education or learn the skills that will help them succeed in life. The issues discussed in relation to Darling-Hammond's (2010) article shed light on why these schools are ineffective in fostering the opportunity for future growth. The most glaring implication in Michie's "Holler If You Hear Me" is for teachers. Descriptions of Michie's own experiences combined with the stories of his students poignantly underscores how important it is for teachers to know their students. We hear Michie's perspective of his experiences in the classroom, but when we hear from the students themselves, an entirely new story emerges.
The resulting implication is that in order to effectively teach our students we must try to understand where they are coming from. We must be aware of the challenges that they deal with on a daily basis, learn about the environments in which they live, and adjust our methodology accordingly. Michie's book is very student-centered and it calls attention to voices that are commonly underrepresented. In doing so, we are reminded of the true purpose of teaching and we attach a name and a story to the broader political discussions that surround education. Implications I thought that "Holler If You Hear Me" was an interesting and enlightening book about the field of education. It provided real examples of many of the theories that we discuss in classes. I was able to see how a practicing teacher learns and develops as an educator while overcoming daily challenges.

For me, the major strength of the book were the vignettes by the students. It was amazing to hear their real and honest perspectives, and the stories of their lives helped me to grasp the full weight of the teaching profession. As much as I appreciated the voices of the students, I was less taken with Michie as an author. At times, he appeared to be an amateurish and somewhat unreliable narrator. He admits that both the teaching profession, and the demographic that he works with are unfamiliar to him. Although I respect his honestly, these facts are glaringly obvious through his writing, and his actions and rationales seemed at times naive and ill-informed. Michie himself was not unlikable, it was simply that his lack of experience undermined some of his credibility.

"Holler If You Hear Me" directly relates to my work because it helps me better understand the educational system in which I will be working in. It helped me to vividly see some of the challenges of teaching, and it serves as an important reminder for me to always approach my students as unique individuals with diverse needs. Personal Reactions Questions What sociological lessons do you think we, as educators, can learn from reading stories about people with vastly different life experiences than ourselves? What are ways that you think you can specifically customize your methodology and teaching strategies to reach a diverse group of students? Is this important to do? Have you read any other literature that sounds similar to "Holler If You Hear Me"? If so, what did you learn that might be relevant in a discussion on this book? References Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). How the opportunity gap is constructed. In The Flat World and Education. New York: Teachers College Press, pp. 27-65.

DeMarrais, K.B. & LeCompte, M. D. (1999). Theory and its influences on the purposes of schooling. In The way schools work: A sociological analysis of education (3rd ed.). New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc., 1-22. Delpit, L.D. (1988). The silenced dialogue: power and pedagogy in education other people’s children. Harvard Educational Review, 58(3), pp. 280-298.

Michie, G. (1999). Holler if you hear me: the education of a teacher and his students. New York: Teachers College Press.
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