Published by FSG Originals on December 2nd 2014
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It seems there’s a bit of a trend when it comes to books about teachers and students: the outsider teacher steps in and struggles for some time before finding a way to completely turn his or her students around. Crowds cheer and a hero is born. As an educator, I’ve always found these narratives to be exaggerated and problematic, but I continue to seek out books that show a more realistic view of teacher-student relationships.
Thankfully, Spare Parts bucks the trend. Written from a journalist’s perspective, the book follows a group of four students who come together to form a competitive underwater robotics team at a Phoenix high school. Before landing in a supportive science classroom, the team members were born in Mexico and brought to the United States by their parents in hopes of creating better lives for their families. Joshua Davis highlights the individual circumstances each family faced and puts names and faces with stories we often hear only in snippets.
Teacher Fredi Lajvardi saw promise in those stories; in the boys who gathered scraps that blew into yards and learned English by watching Bob Vila on TV. But Fredi didn’t fall prey to the hero teacher stereotype. Instead, he welcomed the boys into his classroom and provided them with a safe, stimulating environment that allowed their imaginations run wild. When thrown together, the students found their ideas were successful enough to put them in competition with prestigious schools like MIT. Though they found comfort, intellectual challenges and encouragement in their team, the students routinely faced the looming fear of deportation.
In the final pages of Spare Parts, as Davis follows the team members after their time in high school, we get a true sense of the mountains our country expects undocumented immigrants to climb, even after years of hard work and success. It’s both an inspiring story of overcoming odds and a reminder of the work that must be done in order to create a truly level playing field.