Review: The Class: A Life-Changing Teacher, His World-Changing Kids, and the Most Inventive Classroom in America

by Heather Won Tesoriero (Ballantine Books, 2018)

The Class offers excellent back-to-school reading for teachers who aspire to make a difference and for parents who advocate for innovation and imagination in our children's schools.

During the 2016-17 school year, former Wall Street Journal staff writer Heather Won Tesoriero immersed herself in a high school science classroom taught by Andy Bramante. She’s written a suspenseful and inspiring book focused on the complex lives of teens enrolled in an elective called Science Research. Mr. Bramante mentors self-directed students to tackle leading-edge, real-life problems: Lyme disease; cancer diagnostics; carbon capture technology; power generation using mushrooms; water purification; adhesive bandage innovation; invention of a rapid Ebola test, and more.

The students (especially those who enroll for several years) compete in regional, national, and international science challenges, earning prizes, scholarships, and job offers. Won Tesoriero highlights myriad personal defeats and triumphs that cannot always be measured by prizes. Prom dates gleaned; afternoons in a famous NYC medical research institute learning to use new equipment; losing a home to Hurricane Sandy; figuring out Plan Z when your experiment fails many times; becoming a celebrity profiled in Teen Vogue; college rejection(s). Yes, even superstar teens with international honors get rejected from college! Won Tesoriero also explores the secret wiring inside a gifted teacher: what makes him tick, what ticks him off, and why he faces burnout out despite having helped launch hundreds of teens into brilliant science-related careers.

While this book zooms into a particular classroom (in an affluent school district), the program developed by Bramante can (and should) be scaled to every age and ability, including Kindergarten. Students need to design their own contraptions and engage with creative risk-taking. Teachers need support in order to spark every student’s intellectual curiosity. Schools must engage students early with the creative thinking process—in art, music, science, yes; and also infuse all subjects with creativity. Absolutely required reading for school administrators and policy makers. This book illuminates millions of possibilities for the future of education. Millions of young minds hold the potential to dream big and to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. The idea that one person can make a positive difference needs to be encouraged at all levels: family, classroom, school, community, globally.

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Karen Lewis