Our intrepid journalist finally gets the grail


[caption id="attachment_428" align="alignleft" width="214" caption="Jeremy's cover article, six or so months ago..."]Jeremy's cover article, six or so months ago...[/caption]

So, here we get the grand finale from Jeremy:

         Our daughter, Deirdre, was born on August 29, 2005. Between my wife's contractions, we watched a televised Hurricane Katrina ravage New Orleans. I missed the ceremonial sendoff lunch with editor Lewis Lapham but I didn't care. For the next year we struggled to survive the whirlwind of new parenthood. I juggled finishing my master's and taking care of our daughter. In my spare time, I sent pitches and the occasional essay to Harper's. None of these attempts earned me so much as a "no thanks."

         In the meantime, with what I'd learned about narrative and investigative reporting at Boston University, I managed to secure a semi-regular gig with the Boston Globe. Then, in summer of 2006, we moved back just outside New York City to a neighborhood in Jersey with a sweeping view of the Hudson River. On a clear day, you could see from the George Washington Bridge to the Verazzano Narrows.

         Without writing work on the horizon, I went back to work for Kaplan, where I'd been employed on and off for the previous seven years. I took a job writing textbook items for their new high school and elementary science standardized test curricula. In the time since I'd last worked for Kaplan, the company had grown substantially--fattened on No Child Left Behind dollars--and moved from their cramped offices on 57th Street to a bleak skyscraper Downtown overlooking the crater of the former World Trade Center. From this vantage, the irony was palpable. Directly below Kaplan's 22nd floor offices was the caldera of "disaster capitalism" in its latest and most terrifying iteration. But catastrophe was undeniably good for business. Just as billions were being pipelined to contractors for the dubious "reconstruction" of Iraq, tens of millions were being funneled to companies like Kaplan for dubious "curricular reform" in the city's failing schools.

         Having worked in a struggling, underfunded public high school, I couldn't see this as anything but blood money. Tens of millions were going to pay for expensive test prep guides and $50 to $100 an hour test prep tutors. The money could have been used to hire special education teachers and social workers. It could have gone to equalize pay scales between city schools and those in its wealthy suburbs.  It could have gone to removing chain link from stairwells and repairing crumbling brick and mortar. It could have gone to improving the quality of school lunches or acoustics in classrooms. It could have gone to any of these things. But instead it went to multi-billion dollar conglomerates with a long-term financial interest in the failing of these schools. The more egregiously the schools failed, in fact, the more money they were required to pay outside firms like Kaplan.

         So, you see, I had a point of view.  But then there was the matter of finding a proper angle.

         It was a semi-original thesis (at best) but one that could be interwoven with my own experience. With Jonathan Kozol, Naomi Klein and Ted Conover rattling in my brain, I began to devise a means of reporting the complicated story. After a year of research and collecting experiences at the company, I sent Ben Austen and Roger Hodge a 2,000-word pitch outlining the trouble with the Title I provision of the No Child Left Behind Act and my plan to report it on “the inside”--from the perspective of one complicit in the graft. I would go back to teaching for the company.

         They liked the idea. I spent the next year working as a “coach,” teaching and writing about my experiences.  It was a harrowing, illuminating experience.

If you want to share in the illumination, check out  Jeremy's one-day workshop here.  Thanks for the tale, Jeremy!

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