Sunday, October 25, 2015

Book Review: The Teachers' Strike

by Gabby Mathews, published by Blushing Books.

By Stephen Wilson
             The book baffles many people. It is not pornographic, preachy, or simply political and fails to smoothly fit into any neat genre.

             Perhaps it is best read as a thought-provoking political satire which attempts to amuse and ridicule the blatant absurdity of political figures who lord it over us.

             The book, a novelle of just over fifty pages, is centred around a tense stormy amorous relationship between a student and teacher during the great Chicago Teacher union strike of 2012.

             Though there is nothing remotely illegal about this relationship, the teacher is around 23 and her student is 19, the authorities still view it 'as improper', 'indecent' , and 'unprofessional'.

             Those seeking the cheap thrills of high porn will be
disappointed. They should stick to Playboy. On the contrary, the work is a deeply thoughtful exploration of the dynamics and drama of almost-doomed relationships.

             In a recent interview with Jim Vail, in Chicago News, Mathews states, 'The sexual and erotic elements make up just a tiny fraction of the book. For me, the turbulent personal story between the teacher and student and the political story of the strike that upends the city's school system (satire) is all much more interesting'. For Mathews, like Dostovesky, love is an awesome thing. He succinctly says, 'Love is a mess chaos.'

             The teacher and student don't just show lust for each other, but show signs of genuinely caring for each other. We are never certain which way the relationship will go.

             Gabby Mathew's work raises issues which most other writers ignore or overlook. Gabby Mathews work is compelling as his work is very well written, rich in idioms, expressions and witty dialogue. The language abounds with rich affirmation of the most important things of life; love, relationships and politics.

             Even if you find Mathew's political views hard to swallow you can still laugh along with the author.

             Asked 'Why did you write an erotic book?', Mathews  answered, 'Three words; money, love and politics, in our
society each of these words is cheapened by overuse and
misuse, but in my case of writing this novella, the social
context of all three words speak to my core writing of this

             In fact, this book reminded me of Salinger's work, 'Catcher in the Rye. ' Like Holden, the main hero of this novel is an outsider and rebel who is constantly dropping out or being expelled from schools. He feels deeply misunderstood
by everyone around him and feels an unbridgeable gap
between himself and society. That is until two events; meeting a teacher who can intuitively understand him and the outbreak of a strike which allows him to re-perceive injustice around him.

             There is not just one Robin Crusoe and one Man -Friday but a whole army who are awkwardly thrust together into a the joint action of a teacher's strike.

             The story opens with the words, 'No school today and maybe not forever, all our teachers are boycotting school now' ... I'm Telly. I 'm a troubled kid and have an attitude problem.'

             'Telly has been 'clinically diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder' as he has 'racked up 6 high schools in 2 years and grown quite pround of the fact.'

             Telly falls in love with a young teacher called Clair and a secret affair begins between them which must be discreetly hidden from the authorities lest Claire lose her job. However, as both the affair and strike progresses, she begins to feel disillusioned by teaching when she senses the idealism which brought her into teaching has been betrayed. She states, 'The way the teachers have been treated, what the school district promised me to get me here meant taking pay and health care from older, more experienced teachers like Mrs Karky, once they finish training me. I feel so betrayed'.

             Mrs Karky herself states bitterly, 'I'm tired of billionaires like our mayor of one percent telling us what we need to do for our children as if they love our children more than we do. They have the money, they have the media, but we have something they don't have - us. ' The motives of the strikers are sympathetically portrayed as fighting for a more caring and improved education system, long-term fair pay, and a refusal to allow standardised testing to be the budgeoning bust for teacher evaluation to use over our heads as one more tool to cleanse teachers out of the district.' (page 34)

             Part of the drama of the work arises out of whether the authorities will discover their illicit affair and how. Will
someone betray the other?  I won't say anything. Read the novelle yourself!

             The book has just been published while the teachers are on the brink of yet another strike. Along with this, there
have been two high-profile cases of teachers such as
Jennifer Fichter and Brianne Altice being sentenced to 22
years and the latter for 30 years for having illicit affairs with
their grown-up students!  Strange as it seems, Mathews is largely unaware of the Fichter case. The cases don't appear to have any explicit connection or inspired his work.

             The head of the Chicago Teachers Union have objected to their logo being used in the front cover of the book and don't want to promote his novelle.

             The Teacher's Strike is quite unique. It is well worth reading.

             It is a must which should adorn every teacher's bookshelf!

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