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Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream

by H.G. Bissinger (Addison-Wesley, $19.95.)

In September 1988, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist H.G. Bissinger moved to Odessa, Texas, to explore the town's obsession with high school football. What he found is enough to appall even the most ardent fan. The school and community emphasize football to the exclusion of virtually everything else. While players must perform heroically on the football field even when injured, they are relieved of all responsibility in the classroom. A senior linebacker, for example, spends a typical school day watching Geraldo in sociology class, completing a worksheet on cakes and frostings in food-science class, and catching up on sleep in English. At Odessa's Permian High School, the English department's 1988 budget for classroom materials was only $5,040. But the school spent $6,400 filming its football games and roughly $70,000 sending the team to games via chartered jet. Worst of all is the way the football machine chews up and then spits out players. A black player, his sensational career sidetracked by a knee injury, becomes a target of racial slurs; one-time football stars leave school illiterate. What explains this destructive obsession with football? Bissinger suggests that the game is a rallying point for proud people who have been battered by a prolonged oil bust. And its sheer aggressiveness reflects the rugged, no-nonsense image these Texans have of themselves. Finally, though, Bissinger's dramatic book is less about high school football than about American values that have somehow gotten way out of line.

Dancing With Your Books: The Zen Way of Studying

by J.J. Gibbs (Plume, $8.95.)

The idea here is that students are fatally hampered by their own self-consciousness. Instead of studying simply to study, they're constantly distracted by a concern with consequences. Instead of worrying about failing, becoming bored, or pleasing a parent, students should immerse themselves in the moment. "Be where you are," the author advises. He also recommends meditation for clearing and calming the mind. While all of this is amusing, it's not very convincing to those of us who think that students could best benefit from a dose of the good old-fashioned work ethic.

Teachers Talk

by John Godar (Glenbridge, $19.95.)

Exhausted after 12 years of teaching high school English, John Godar quit his job in 1985 and traveled the country to find out what public school teachers think about teaching. The result is an engaging book of interviews in which dozens of teachers talk with great intensity about everything from shattered idealism to indifferent parents. The news isn't all bad; the majority of teachers are highly committed. But the teachers—from poor and wealthy districts alike—are obviously under great strain, and even the most calm and self-reflective voices occasionally bristle with anger. Teachers find themselves in an impossible bind: Society expects them to perform miracles, yet they are denied even basic control over what they teach. Over and over again, teachers talk of being treated with disdain, even contempt. One goes so far as to say that "teaching is slavery." Others tell compelling horror stories: A principal encourages cheating to raise standardized test scores; a teacher is evaluated by someone who knows nothing about her field. The reader finishes this book feeling great admiration for teachers who succeed against all odds and deep pessimism about a public school system that seems impervious to change.

Vol. 02, Issue 04, Page 62

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