Good Stuff

A History of Bombing, by Sven Lindqvist (New York: The New Press, 2000), 224 pp. $16.95.

Teaching with Fire: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Teach, Eds. Sam Intrator and Megan Scribner (San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 2003), 225 pp. $14.95.

Sven Lindqvist's A History of Bombing is composed like a complex computer game and could be likened to Dungeons and Dragons. As the author says, "The book is a labyrinth with 22 entrances and no exit." It is a complex, creative, painful, and often frightening voyage through the history of one people bombing another, killing innocents in the name of making war. The reason I recommend the book is that it makes the horror of mechanical war come alive and demonstrates how people of color and poor people were used as the laboratory for the deliverance of death. The book exposes the history of militaristic policies in Iraq, Latin America, and Afghanistan.

This may not be a book to use with young people, as it is frightening and takes an intimate look at how people can be cruel and indifferent to the fate of other people. On the other hand, many kids are used to killing and maiming others on computer screens and will be very comfortable managing the structure of this book, though the content may and should disturb them. It is a healthy alternative to thinking that abstract killing through computer gaming or technological warfare lets you off the hook for celebrating the imagined or real death of others.

Now for the good news: Teaching with Fire is an anthology of poems chosen by teachers and other educators. It's filled with poems that inspire people to continue teaching in troubled times. A page of reflection and commentary by the person who chose that work precedes each selection in the book. Contributors include teachers involved in the small schools movement and teachers from across the world, as well as Tom Vander Ark of the Gates Foundation and Ted Sizer. The selections are very diverse, but all have a quality and frankness unusual for a book addressed to teachers.

Here is an excerpt from one of the poems, chosen by a teacher in Germany and written by Robert Graves, that I would like to share (p. 149):

Children, if you dare to think
Of the greatness, rareness, muchness
Fewness of this precious only
Endless world in which you say
You live, you think of things like this:
Blocks of Slate enclosing dappled
Red and green, enclosing tawny
Yellow nets, enclosing white
And black acres of dominoes,
Where a neat brown paper parcel
Tempts you to untie the string.