The Class/ posted in: Book Review, Reading The Class: A Life-Changing Teacher, His World-Changing Kids, and the Most Inventive Classroom in America by Heather Won Tesoriero
on September 4, 2018
Published by Ballantine Books
An unforgettable year in the life of a visionary high school science teacher and his award-winning students, as they try to get into college, land a date for the prom . . . and possibly change the world.
Andy Bramante left his successful career as a corporate scientist to teach public high school--and now helms one of the most remarkable classrooms in America. Bramante's unconventional class at Connecticut's prestigious yet diverse Greenwich High School has no curriculum, tests, textbooks, or lectures, and is equal parts elite research lab, student counseling office, and teenage hangout spot. United by a passion to learn, Mr. B.'s band of whiz kids set out every year to conquer the brutally competitive science fair circuit. They have won the top prize at the Google Science Fair, made discoveries that eluded scientists three times their age, and been invited to the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm.
A former Emmy-winning producer for CBS News, Heather Won Tesoriero embeds in this dynamic class to bring Andy and his gifted, all-too-human kids to life--including William, a prodigy so driven that he's trying to invent diagnostics for artery blockage and Alzheimer's (but can't quite figure out how to order a bagel); Ethan, who essentially outgrows high school in his junior year and founds his own company to commercialize a discovery he made in the class; Sophia, a Lyme disease patient whose ambitious work is dedicated to curing her own debilitating ailment; Romano, a football player who hangs up his helmet to pursue his secret science expertise and develop a "smart" liquid bandage; and Olivia, whose invention of a fast test for Ebola brought her science fair fame and an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
We experience the thrill of discovery, the heartbreak of failed endeavors, and perhaps the ultimate high: a yes from Harvard. Moving, funny, and utterly engrossing, The Class is a superb account of hard work and high spirits, a stirring tribute to how essential science is in our schools and our lives, and a heartfelt testament to the power of a great teacher to help kids realize their unlimited potential.
Descriptions of this class made me a bit twitchy. Basically, anything goes. The kids do self-directed projects, maybe. If they don’t get started working on anything, ok. If they start working on something and then wander off and ignore their project for months on end, ok. If they ignore their project and then have to work nights and weekends to get it done on time, then the teacher has the lab open for them to do that. I would not be a very understanding teacher if these kids were wanting me to give up my personal time because they couldn’t be bothered to do their work in a timely manner in class. Your lack of preparation is not my emergency, etc.
I didn’t realize that science fairs were this big of a business. There are huge amounts of prize money on the line. Add this into pressure over getting into the “right” colleges and these kids are getting pushed hard sometimes by their parents. You know that parents are the biggest source of trouble in a class like this.
Greenwich is known as a super rich area even though there are students at all economic levels. This has added some tension around the program. Other schools think “Of course the rich school can produce fancy projects”. The book goes into a lot of detail about how the class is run on a shoe string budget but they do have a lot of contacts. Kids can go to professional labs and use a scanning electron microscope for free. The teacher gets a lot of used fancy lab equipment that other schools wouldn’t have access to. Some parents can pay for projects that others can’t.
The book follows several students through the year to see how they do with their projects and what life is like for them outside of class. Who goes to prom? Who gets into what college? (Those college acceptances seem incredibly random.) How do they decide what school to go to? Should you even worry about finishing high school if you have a company producing what you invented in Science Research class and you’re in the running for a 7 million dollar prize?