“What School Could Be” by Ted Dintersmith (2018)

90% of the novels and short stories I read are on my tablet, usually under late afternoon or evening light and occasionally accompanied by a glass of wine and whatever playlist happens to be queued up at the time.

Reading something for a Schoolmarm client is vastly different; I need a paper copy so I can annotate, highlight, tab, and markup. .Docx or .pdf alone rarely, if ever, works for me. Especially when I’m working on a longer manuscript for an author, my first read-through has to be on paper. (I’m a big fan of double-sided, booklet printing as a paper and toner saver.)

I also read differently depending on my arrangement with an author. If I’m reading for copy edits, I have the paper copy in front of me and listen along as the “read aloud” feature in Word moves through the text. If I’m going to be presenting a historical context to the author, my markup focuses on connections I make as I read. I often use the code TRM (This Reminds Me) in margins and the only music I can tolerate is uninterrupted lofi. Unless I’ve been asked not to, I actively work to set my identity aside and focus on what the author has asked me to focus on.

However, if I’m reading to build my background knowledge or for my own research purposes, I kick it old school. I need a paper copy, notecards, my notebooks, a highlighter, and felt-tip markers. Reading for my own purposes also typically means I’m sliding through different perspectives. I sometimes even “hate-read.” I actively look for things to disagree with so I can develop counter-claims or I look for ways to change my mind. I sometimes read like a feminist and keep a tally of gender patterns in citations and examples, especially in education books.

Book cover

Which is to say: there are lots of ways to read Ted Dintersmith’s 2018 book, What School Could Be. One way is to consider the book in the larger context of school reform. Fortunately, Benjamin Doxtdator wrote a fantastic piece that goes deep on the issue in the book as it relates to reform, voice, and race.

Another way is to consider the notion of expertise in his book. Women are most likely to be experts at the day to day work of teaching (7 out of 10 teachers are women.) Men are most likely to be found doing the work of running a school or district (7 out of 10 educational leaders are men). Although Dintersmith dedicates his book to teachers (“I’m deeply grateful to our teachers. This book is yours. It springs from your creativity.” p. xxiii), a woman isn’t quoted until chapter 2. It’s also compelling to consider who Dintersmith turned to as experts when writing. Although he doesn’t have a reference section, he does provide acknowledgments where he opens by thanking Greg, Adam, Adam, Gabe, and Tony. The challenge isn’t about these particular men, whom I’m sure are all lovely, it’s the nature of the disconnect between who “inspires” him and whose voices he trusts to “reimagine education.”

Dintersmith isn’t new to the “chance schools now!” genre. He co-authored Most Likely to Succeed (fact checked here) and played a role the creation of the documentary of the same name (fact checked here. I’m an article author/editor.) Nor is he the most high profile. He is, though, a modern day example of a wealthy philanthropist who sees a problem and determines he is the person best positioned to solve the problem. In order to persuade the reader to see what he sees, he uses some questionable history as his springboard. And that, dear reader, is what we’re going to focus on here.

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