I Just Wanna Be Average

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“I Just Wanna Be Average"

Mike Rose is anything but average: he has published poetry, scholarly research, a textbook, and two widely praised books on education in Amer­ica. A professor in the School of Education at UCLA, Rose has won awards from the National Academy of Education, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Below you'll read the story of how this highly successful teacher and writer started high school in the "vocational education" track, learning dead-end skills from teachers who were often underprepared or incompetent. Rose shows that students whom the system has written off can have tremendous unreal­ized potential, and his critique of the school system specifies several reasons for the 'failure" of students who go through high school belligerent, fearful, stoned, frustrated, or just plain bored. This selection comes from Lives on the Boundary (1989), Rose's exploration of America's educationally under­privileged. His most recent book, Possible Lives (1996), offers a nationwide tour of creative classrooms and innovative educational programs. Rose is currently researching a new book on the thinking patterns of blue-collar workers.

It took two buses to get to Our Lady of Mercy. The first started deep in South Los Angeles and caught me at midpoint. The second drifted through neighborhoods with trees, parks, big lawns, and lots of flowers. The rides were long but were livened up by a group of South L.A. veterans whose parents also thought that Hope had set up shop in the west end of the county. There was Christy Biggars, who, at sixteen, was dealing and was, ac­cording to rumor, a pimp as well. There were Bill Cobb and Johnny Gonza­les, grease-pencil artists extraordinaire, who left Nembutal-enhanced swirls of "Cobb" and "Johnny" on the corrugated walls of the bus. And then there was Tyrrell Wilson. Tyrrell was the coolest kid I knew. He ran the dozens like a metric halfback,...
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