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The Water is Wide deserves five stars or more! I just loved the way Pat Conroy changed his ways when it came to his feelings about black people and especially the children of the island. He was raised during the times when racial prejudice was the norm among his childhood friends and families in the South. His attitude with the children in the island school was wonderful as opposed to the other teacher in the school. Her idea that the strap was the only way to control the children who she deemed "retarded" was just awful to say the least. Conroy`s reaction to some of her ways was actually comical.I felt that Conroy`s refusal to use books which the youngsters couldn`t read anyway was creative in the end. His use of trips and experiences to teach the students was totally against the other teacher`s ideas of instruction and, since she was the "principal" of the school, she tried everything to stop him from his unique teaching methods.It was appalling to see how the Board of Education failed him, showing how little they cared about these poor children who in many cases couldn`t even recite the alphabet or count to any reasonable degree. No one at the Board, nor the other teacher at the school, cared about the fact that this generation of youngsters would probably never leave the island and would remain in poverty as adults or might leave to go to some city where they would also end up living in abject poverty. All the Board seemed to want was a warm body in the classroom, someone who wouldn`t make waves. They didn`t count on Conroy doing just that.Pat Conroy found methods that made education interesting to the students, but sadly he was only allowed to teach for a year before he was told they no longer needed or wanted him on the island. Though he fought to stay, he lost out.This true story has some sadness and a great deal of humor along with it. It is a great read.
As a former teacher in a very poor county in North Carolina just a few years after Conroy`s experience, I related to this book in the first few pages. I am a lover of "all things Pat Conroy", and this one did not disappoint. His writing is beautifully poignant, sometimes invoking laughter, sometimes tears, but always sincere and believable. The challenges he faced defy reason in more ways than one, but his undaunted spirit prevailed. If you are a teacher, and think you`ve had a bad day/year, put this on your reading list. How would you have faced this challenge? I`d hope with the same tenacity in the face of circumstances as well as the school administration. The love he had for his challenged students shines through and your admiration for him will jump up several notches by the time you finish this touching story.
A year ago I finished a 40-year career teaching in a public school. I am embarrassed to say I didn`t read this book years ago. It came out early in my career, and it is a book that every person in teacher education should read. And its message is timeless; it says as much to educators today as I`m sure it did to educators in 1972 when it was first published. Only a teacher could have written The Water is Wide, and while Pat Conroy didn`t teach for very many years, he spoke with the voice of those of us who have devoted a lifetime to the profession. The heart and soul of teaching permeates this book, and its message speaks to each and every man and woman who has walked into a classroom filled with students, some prepared but many not, and pours 100% of his or her being into teaching those students. My only regret in having read The Water is Wide is that I didn`t read it before Mar. 4, 2016, the day Conroy died, because I wish I could write him a letter and tell him how much this book meant to me and how much it means to every teacher who reads it.
I grew up in a very small town in Missouri during part of my childhood. That little patch of land had one cotton gin, cotton fields that surrounded everything with dirt roads and ditches alongside them. Having moved from near Pittsburgh to be there, I was, in the estimation of my teachers, advanced in my learning and skills. This was sixth grade, mind you, so I had about as much intelligence as most of the kids in my previous school.Living there, I got a good picture of what it was like associating with children that weren`t as academically challenged as I had been. In fact, it was at first very complimentary to hear I was an excellent pupil, but after a time, I really wanted less attention, to fit in with my friends, who were mostly boys that thought the greatest achievement was the number of swats given by the gym coach they accumulated over the course of the semester.What life was like outside of class was hard work in my grandfather`s scrap yard, hunting, and learning the skills needed to excel as a country boy: how to hone my knife, how to tell what kind of metal I was holding in my hand — I always carried a magnet — how to clean a shotgun and make fishing sinkers from molds into which we poured molten lead. So, why was there any need for anymore education than to learn to add, subtract and read reasonably well?That`s how I view Yamacraw. Just what was it those children needed to survive in the environment they were accustomed? Not much. To advance, they had to have experiences and knowledge that created other thoughts, experiences and dreams. And that is exactly what Pat Conroy took to their island, the map to a new life full of more insight than they could have ever thought possible. Plus, he did it in the most extraordinary ways with field trips, slides and movies that were never before used, just stashed away in a seldom opened closet. Seeing those tools, Mr. Conrack knew just what to do. With whatever he had, he made use of it, and always, in his most amazing speeches turned experiences into learning. I envy that talent.So, if you want to read a book that will both entertain and teach, as well as give you a few good laughs, read this book, then go on to read even more of this brilliant writer`s books, for he was, and still is, an American treasure.
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