The PS Wars: Last Stand at Custer High by Geoffrey Carter takes us inside the battle for the minds of America’s young people and the debate over private vs public education. Dave Bell is a retired teacher with over thirty-odd years spent teaching at the Public High-School, Custer High. With his wife and children estranged he sees no downside to returning to the school as a substitute teacher for another year. But Dave and his fellow teachers are about to be caught up in a battle for the privatisation of Custer High. EduNet and its corporate minions are seeking to convince the school board and the city that Public Education has failed its students and its community. They want to take over the school and replace it with a private charter school. Dave and his fellow long-serving teachers know well that in this predominantly African-American community and in a school with over 40% of its students falling into the Special Needs Education category, a private charter school will do nothing to help these students. In fact, they know they will be excluded. The students, the teachers, the parents and the community in general will rally around their beloved school but can they convince the School Board and the City not to give in, to the corporate raiders?
Being a non-American I found The PS Wars: Last Stand at Custer High to be a fascinating insight into the machinations of the US Education system and the argument that private enterprise can always do a better and more efficient job than a beurocracy-laden Government. Author Geoffrey Carter is clearly passionate about the topic and this flows throughout his work. The author’s style is easy, flowing and very readable. I found the characterisations of the teachers, especially, to be endearing. We can all remember those rare teachers, from our childhood, who made going to school somehow make sense. I loved the counterpoint he made between those (generally of the older generation) for whom teaching was a vocation and for whom the students were their lives, with those who just viewed teaching as a stepping stone to a more rewarding and successful career. The corporate greed honchos were perhaps a tad overdrawn and incredibly dysfunctional but no doubt made that way to highlight the differences in motivations between the two sets of characters. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of Dave Bell’s teaching style and his interactions with the students, which were realistic and never pulled any punches, showing starkly the difficulty and the rewards of working in an inner-city, impoverished, school. The point that the teachers were doing their absolute best, despite the appalling situation came through loud and clear. I found this book an excellent read and can highly recommend it.