Why Do Only White People Get Abducted by Aliens? by Ilana Garon

Why Do Only White People Get Abducted by Aliens?

Photo Credit: Goodreads

After commenting on Kelly’s post of Why Do Only White People Get Abducted by Aliens?: Teaching Lessons from the Bronx by Ilana Garon over at Read Lately, Ilana contacted me about receiving a review copy of her book.

And I’m so glad I read Why Do Only White People Get Abducted by Aliens?: Teaching Lessons from the Bronx, which I will mention from now on as Why Do Only, since it’s way shorter.

Ilana is like most teachers: white, educated, female, middle class.  And her students are mainly from poverty, wrestling with the challenges of gangs, violence, lack of supplies (including food, clothing, proper shoes), and so on.

Ilana tells stories of her time spent as an inexperienced teacher in the Bronx.  She talks about her challenges, the things she did well, along with some of her missteps, sometimes in a serious tone and other times with humor.  In each chapter, you get to know a particular student by a penname, and whether you like that student by the end of the chapter or not, you have seen a complete picture.

I connected with this book for a few reasons:

  • I took a community college course back in West Palm (home) in between freshman and sophomore year at FSU (you know, getting some credits out of the way).  The class was speech, and I could only find it at the Palm Beach Community College campus in Belle Glade, which is not the nicest area to live.  The class was during the day, a nice scenic drive (usually an alligator or two along the way).  I was incredibly out of my element, though, with the speeches.  I was the only white person in the classroom, besides the teacher, but I easily befriended a few students (who probably thought I was interesting to be friends with since I was such an anomaly).  But what I gained most from the class, what I remember most is their dedication to learning.  I hadn’t worked a bunch of jobs, had a few kids, and walked to campus for the class.  My classmates cared more about this class than almost anyone I knew, probably because it was a struggle for many of them to get to that point.  They were role models to me, and I still think about them occasionally.
  • I also am a white, middle class Jewish teacher who taught at low income schools.  I taught elementary school, not high school like Ilana, and had some bumps in the road to overcome regarding socioeconomic status (more info on working with kids from poverty).

However, you don’t need to be a teacher or have any sort of teaching background to identify with Ilana and enjoy her book.  She’s honest, explaining both the triumphs and mistakes she made as a new teacher.  She cares, she’s real, and also entertaining.

Why Do Only is a book I think anyone would enjoy.  Will it change your life?  Maybe not, but it will give you a new perspective without being all Stand And DeliverDangerous Minds, or Freedom Writers (you know, teacher comes into impoverished school and makes such an amazing difference that people can’t believe it!).  This isn’t that: Why Do Only feels more real, it is more real.

Let’s be a little philosophical: How can you make a change in the world, or at least in your life?

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Interested in getting your own copy? Check it out on Amazon & IndieBound. I get a small percentage if you purchase from those links, and it doesn’t cost you any extra.

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20 thoughts on “Why Do Only White People Get Abducted by Aliens? by Ilana Garon

  1. I read a review of this over on another post. I will have to check it out! I like blunt, to the point books on education. (Although I do argue for Freedom Writers. That was based on an actual teacher and the students she taught for 3-4 years.)

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    • I’m not discounting all of the amazing teachers, like with Freedom Writers, at all. They are valid and valuable.

      What I am saying is that this book differs from the “white teacher comes in and makes such an enormous change and is so uplifting always.” It’s not that.

      It’s more “real” feeling. Because Freedom Writers and the other similar true stories are fabulous, but they are the exception to the rule. Ilana’s story is much more “normal.”

      Does that make sense?

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      • Oh yes, that makes sense. I think the Freedom Writer types of success are few and far between. I would enjoy the “normal” story more because I think there’d be more to learn from. Even the most amazing teachers have “the usual” experience…that’s a given.

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    • The title is actually taken from a student’s research paper title. He REALLY tried to research why only white people get abducted by aliens. Can you guess how scientific his research paper probably was? 🙂

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  2. Hi everyone!

    Ilana here, the author of the book. First of all, thanks so much to Rebecca for this thoughtful and detailed review! Second, thanks to all the commenters here for spending time considering the issues the book brings up (i.e., whether or not “hero teachers” exist, what that would constitute, etc.) The more dicsussions people have about education that do NOT end in name-calling and blame-gaming, the better!

    In the book, I definitely strive to provide a “realistic” perspective–I was no hero teacher starting out (nor am I, currently), though I do believe I got better over time. I think, aside from the difficulties faced by students in poverty and by inexperienced teachers, that is another point I’d like people to take from the book–becoming a good teacher takes lots of time and practice! Ten years in, there are STILL tons of things I’d like to do better, which I work on every day. Am I ever gonna be a hero teacher? Probably not. But I am a veteran teacher, which I also feel pretty good about. 🙂

    Thanks to everyone; please be in touch if you have any questions. My new website (www.ilanagaron.com) has a little button with an envelope on it, which you can use to email me.

    Ilana

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    • Ilana,

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting! I think that part of what makes your book relatable is the fact that you’re not a “hero” teacher, but you’re a NORMAL teacher who works hard. You’re real, realistic, and in an attainable position. You make mistakes and share them. That’s how people learn.

      Sometimes those hero teachers are intimidating. I’m not a hero teacher, I never was, nor will I ever be. But, when I was a teacher, I did help my students and I think that at least in some, I made a difference in their lives.

      For instance, I switched schools after my first year, and when I took the science fair winners to the district science fair, I ran into one of my former 2nd graders who was then a 6th grader, I think. And the mom was going on and on about how I (ME) developed a love of science in her son. I was shocked because I taught him my first year of teaching, so I was just trying to stay afloat. I don’t remember doing any cool science experiments, but apparently, I was enthusiastic about something science related.

      But for every achievement, there are definitely missteps! It’s life as a teacher!

      Rebecca

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