Nicholson Baker is a brave man. He knew what he was getting himself into. He went ahead anyway. The hardest part was getting his fingerprints taken. “I’m a writer,” he says, “I bash away on a keyboard all day, every day. How would I know that bashing away on a keyboard all day wears your fingerprints out?”
The acclaimed author’s fingerprints were required for the job he had applied for. He ignored the warnings of his family to boldly venture forth.Nicholson’s new non-fiction book, Substitute: Going to School With a Thousand Kids, is a meticulously detailed account of his 28 days working as a K-12 substitute teacher in a Maine public school district. His day-by-day, documentary reportage is an illuminating snapshot of public education in America today. What emerges from Baker’s experience is a complex, often touching deconstruction of American public schooling, 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.
Baker is an inventive and remarkable writer and Substitute is filled with humor, honesty, and empathy. Make sure you don’t miss Norman B’s conversation with Nicholson Baker on the next edition of Life Elsewhere.