Nicholson Baker discusses “Substitute: Going to School with a Thousand Kids.” He will be joined in conversation by Bill Ayers.
Co-sponsored by The Civic Knowledge Project
At the Co-op
About the book: In 2014, after a brief orientation course and a few fingerprinting sessions, Nicholson Baker became an on-call substitute teacher in a Maine public school district. He awoke to the dispatcher’s five-forty a.m. phone call and headed to one of several nearby schools; when he got there, he did his best to follow lesson plans and help his students get something done. What emerges from Baker’s experience is a complex, often touching deconstruction of public schooling in America: children swamped with overdue assignments, overwhelmed by the marvels and distractions of social media and educational technology, and staff who weary themselves trying to teach in step with an often outmoded or overly ambitious standard curriculum. In Baker’s hands, the inner life of the classroom is examined anew—mundane worksheets, recess time-outs, surprise nosebleeds, rebellions, griefs, jealousies, minor triumphs, daily lessons on everything from geology to metal tech to the Holocaust to kindergarten show-and-tell—as the author and his pupils struggle to find ways to get through the day. Baker is one of the most inventive and remarkable writers of our time, and Substitute, filled with humor, honesty, and empathy, may be his most impressive work of nonfiction yet.
About the author: Nicholson Baker is the author of ten novels, including “The Anthologist,” “Vox,” and “The Fermata,” and five works of nonfiction, including “Human Smoke” and “Double Fold.” He has won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Hermann Hesse Prize, and a Katherine Anne Porter Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in Maine with his wife, the artist Margaret Brentano.
About Bill Ayers: William Ayers, formerly Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), and founder of both the Small Schools Workshop and the Center for Youth and Society, is a graduate of the University of Michigan, the Bank Street College of Education, Bennington College, and Teachers College, Columbia University. Ayers has written extensively about social justice, democracy and education, the cultural contexts of schooling, and teaching as an essentially intellectual, ethical, and political enterprise. He is a former vice-president of the curriculum division of the American Educational Research Association.
His articles have appeared in many journals including the Harvard Educational Review, the Journal of Teacher Education, Teachers College Record, Rethinking Schools, the Nation, Educational Leadership, the New York Times, and the Cambridge Journal of Education.
His books include “Teaching Toward Freedom,” “The Good Preschool Teacher,” “A Kind and Just Parent,” “Teaching the Personal” and the “Political, Fugitive Days,” “Public Enemy,” and with Ryan Alexander-Tanner, “To Teach: The Journey,” in Comics, with Rick Ayers, “Teaching the Taboo: Courage and Commitment in the Classroom,” and with Bernardine Dohrn, “Race Course: Against White Supremacy.”
About the co-sponsor: The Civic Knowledge Project (CKP) is the community connections branch of the Division of the Humanities at the University of Chicago, and it generates, often in collaboration with the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies, a wide range of special projects, including courses, workshops, lectures, tours, and volunteer/internship opportunities. The CKP’s mission is to develop and strengthen community connections through top quality, humanities-based educational programming, helping to overcome the social, economic, and racial divisions among the various knowledge communities on the South Side of Chicago.