• September 24, 2010
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A Day in the Life of Economic History Author Patrick Brown

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A Day in the Life is Literarily Speaking’s newest feature. Here we get a glimpse into our favorite author’s day-to-day life! Today’s guest is Patrick Brown, author of the economic history book, Industrial Pioneers: Scranton, Pennsylvania and the Transformation of America, 1840-1902.

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Patrick Brown 2A Day in the Life of Patrick Brown

by Patrick Brown

While I wrote the thesis that would eventually become Industrial Pioneers as a college student at Georgetown University, I am currently a social studies teacher at Greenville-Weston High School in Greenville, Mississippi through the Teach for America program. I live in the Mississippi Delta (think catfish, cotton and the blues), an area of the country in which the legacy of the region’s past is palpable.

This year, I teach government, economics, psychology, sociology, world history, and United States history—but only three classes at a time. My high school students often have serious trouble with reading comprehension, sometimes struggle to act appropriately in the classroom, and generally come into my class with much less prior knowledge than their peers in other parts of the country. Classes are 98 minutes long, some of my classes have over 30 students, and I teach in a trailer with fickle air conditioning. I love my job.

On a typical day, I arrive at school by 8am—school starts at 8:30. Today my government class is studying taxes and the Federal debt. My students become indignant when they learn that the US government has taken out $14 trillion in their names; one student asks, “Well, why can’t we raise taxes and spend less?” I jokingly inform him that he has no future in politics, and that we will spend the next week trying to answer that question.

Industrial PioneersMy psychology class is studying measures of intelligence, but first I must escort them to lunch. Because fights are common, teachers walk with their classes to lunch, sit with them, and walk back with them. I pay $3.00 for the Federal lunch that almost all of my students get for free (a hamburger, corn, an apple, and 1% milk) and chat with my students as we eat. Upon returning to class, I inform my students that unless they are pregnant, they cannot go to the bathroom. Three young women successively take the hall pass.

We talk about bell curves, IQ tests, ACT scores, and cultural bias. My students are shocked to learn that private colleges in other states love applicants from the Mississippi Delta, and sometimes even favor them over other applicants. The class discussion turns to the college application process, and I explain how students should study for the ACT (most students at my school see the test for the first time on test day) and apply to every school in which they are interested. The concept of “safety schools” and “reach schools” is foreign.

My final class of the day is world history—all sophomores. I check that my male students have their shirts tucked in before they enter class, review the previous day’s lesson, remind my class how Cornell notes work, and begin to list inventors on the board. My students complain that my trailer is hot, and I agree—the thermostat shows 85 degrees—but I remind my students that they do live in Mississippi, and we do need to have class. I ask who invented the airplane, and an especially enthusiastic student’s hand shoots up. Before I can call on him, he blurts out, “Pontius Pilate!” I remind him that while a pilot flies an airplane, the Wright brothers were the first to successfully build one. By the end of the day, however, I notice that he knows his inventors cold.

The bell rings to end the school day at 4:05, but I stay in trailer G2 until 5:00. I have students staying after school to serve detention, to make up tests, and to seek advice on college. When I finally leave, I head for Tabbs Barbeque, where teachers get can get anything on the menu for $5.00 (I get a barbeque sandwich, sweet potato fries, and a soda). Tabbs has become a Wednesday ritual among the Teach for America teachers at my school, and the eight of us who show up enjoy an excellent meal while we discuss our school days.

I drive home, grade papers in my back yard until the mosquitoes chase me inside, and work on some blog posts to promote Industrial Pioneers. My roommates (also teachers) and I hang out for a few hours, and I only get around to reviewing the next day’s lesson later that night. I finally get to sleep around midnight.

The next day I take a deep breath, and do it all over again.

You can visit Patrick’s website at http://www.industrialpioneers.com.

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