Although many view schools, colleges, and universities as the primary places from which we attain an education, opportunities for education surround us all in many overlooked forms, often around the corner, down the block, or even right in your own home. Written over the span of several years as he shuttled to and from the Indian subcontinent, Colin Phelan's debut book The Local School pays tribute to this idea: that the best schools are our local schools, ones of friends, of family, or of the people serendipitously encountered in your own neighborhood.
Fusing genres of travel writing, narrative journalism, memoir, and poetry, The Local School explores a counterintuitive perception of education and the need for an education renaissance in America. Detailing his experiences living and studying alongside two Indian men, one a Bengali teacher, and one a northern Indian truck driver, Phelan reorients education as a lifestyle, as opposed to something we chase. For years, Phelan wrestles with questions about these two Indian men's uniquely uncommon friendship, about the Indian subcontinent's history and complex social fabric, and ultimately, about what makes an education. All the while travelling far from home, Phelan learns that the best schools are our local schools.
Utilizing archival research from the National Archives of India, Delhi, the British Library, London, and behind the scenes access in Kolkata, Delhi, Kashmir, and parts of the Garhwal Himalayan foothills, Phelan's story treads genres of travel writing, narrative journalism, and memoir. All the while reimagining these ideas about education, Phelan's narrative offers readers privileged access into worlds of India about which they would otherwise know little.
"It's been a while since I've read anything as unique and moving. It had me from the start. Fortunately, Phelan strays far from the local to contend with what are, at root, universal themes: the connection between past and present, between one's own inner life and the lives of others. It's a vivid literary success." - John O'Connor, Acclaimed American Travel Writer
"A mosaic of fresh, honest reflections on the 'serendipitous' relationship that evolved among a trio of seekers in modern Kolkata: a shared quest for what the author calls the soul's 'engagement and personal betterment.' By 'The Local School, ' Phelan means the process through which, with the aid of his Bengali and Garhwali 'brothers by choice' in an impromptu neighborhood academy, he learned to 'slow down and identify' his Western 'predispositions as a means of both correcting and valuing' his own identity. Much as sifting passages lifted from a journal, you'll find here a rich, heartfelt mix of poetry, pedagogical musings, astute political history of the subcontinent and British Empire--and a restless desire to review one's first impressions, so as to plan yet another journey of learning." - Dr. Christopher Wilson, Reading Narrative Journalism
"The Local School recounts the formative journey of a young teacher who comes to understand and commit to the teaching profession and its universal values. Phelan paints a vivid portrait of modern day India and its people, delving into history, politics and the philosophy of education. This moving tale of an unlikely friendship enlightens and inspires." - Jennifer Berkshire, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: the Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School
Connecticut author Colin Phelan earned his degree from Boston College and is an educator. He serves as a history teacher, an outdoors educator, a travel writer, and a poet, and is a Fulbright-Nehru scholar, having mastered the Hindi language and experienced the manifold aspects of education in India. THE LOCAL SCHOOL is his debut book publication
In his Preface Phelan states, ‘This book pays tribute to a localized yet universally relevant perception of education: that the best schools are our local schools, ones of friends, of family, of all the people serendipitously encountered in your own neighborhood, or, in the case of teachers, and I speak to your directly, in your own school and classroom. In the case of this book, the local schooled detailed is one in the city of Kolkata, in West Bengal, India. While this story recounts my specific experiences living, working, and studying alongside two Indian men (Bajju and Sanjit) whom I met by chance, it is my hope that this story might galvanize educators, students, and learners – of which we all are – to ground themselves in their local communities and local schools.’
Phelan’s fluid prose invites the reader to experience the interpersonal relationships he shared with his time in India, and most especially with his fascinating friends Bajju and Sanjit, two men from whom we learn Indian cultural customs and traditions and insights that in effect provide an imaginative and mesmerizing journey to India. As the synopsis details, ‘Fusing genres of travel writing, narrative journalism, memoir, and poetry, The Local School explores a counterintuitive perception of education and the need for an education renaissance in America. Detailing his experiences living and studying alongside two Indian men, one a Bengali teacher, and one a northern Indian truck driver, Phelan reorients education as a lifestyle, as opposed to something we chase. For years, Phelan wrestles with questions about these two Indian men's uniquely uncommon friendship, about the Indian subcontinent's history and complex social fabric, and ultimately, about what makes an education. All the while travelling far from home, Phelan learns that the best schools are our local schools.’
Walking with Phelan through these formative years, back and forth between the US and India, produces an emotional connection with the author and his colleagues, interchanges in thoughts and experiences that encourage altering our perception of ‘education.’ The book is exceedingly entertaining as well as informative, and by the final pages, the content becomes poetic – literally! There is much to be gained by reading this book: we can only hope for further adventures from Colin Phelan.
This book takes the reader on an incredible educational and philosophical journey that will shape your views about far away places while also opening up your eyes to educational journey's possible at home. The Local school offers the perspective of a young American man exploring himself and his place in the world with the assistance of a middle aged Indian professor/philosopher and a wide arrange of characters met during the author's travels. I highly recommend reading this story as it demonstrates an incredible commitment and thirst for knowledge as well as an inspirational story of connections that can be made and maintained across the globe for those willing to try.
Colin Phelan’s thoroughly delightful memoir, The Local School, is at once a discussion of learning, a coming of age story, a travelogue, a fascinating introduction of day-to-day life in India and a warmly drawn picture of two men who had a profound influence on the author. It entertains you, as you see a different culture and experience life in this very hot and noisy city and you learn of India’s colonial past and travel to another section of the country.
Phelan introduces the reader to different concepts of education through his discussions with his teacher / mentor Sanjit and Bajju, fellow pupil, truck driver and friend. His fine power of description creates a comfortable picture of life in the home/local school: talking, discussing language and history over tea and a smoke (biri), even as the intense heat and busy city of Kolkata exist around them. He recounts these day-to-day discussions and activities to highlight the differences in culture and perspective between his new teachers and his Western background.
Colin Phelan’s The Local School is a treat to read. At its core, it is a search for communication with respect. We learn from each other as well as from teachers, friends, family, parents and those with different perspectives and experiences. As he says before the poem that ends his book: “… I hope to walk wide-eyed everyday …”
This is an amazing read as you journey alongside a young man examining his passion for knowledge in a foreign country, and shows us how we can learn through daily observations of the world around us, so long as we stay perceptive. Colins’s passion of continuing education among our daily societal journey truly amazes me and reading this has inspired me to utilize more of his perceptions in my life to develop a greater understanding of the world around me.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
The Local School is not entirely memoir, not entirely travel writing, not entirely history…but entirely captivating. I am typically drawn to books that help me appreciate different perspectives, books that make me feel like I am learning something without feeling like I’m reading a textbook. When reading this book I found myself writing in the margins and actively reflecting about themes, questions, and stories told throughout each chapter. These ideas continue to shape the way I think about my world and have influenced my appreciation for education both in a literal sense and in a personal sense. This book is special to me and I would highly recommend this book to anyone, especially someone entering a new chapter of their life. It is a quick weekend read that leaves an impression long after you finish the closing poem, I wish I could read it again for the first time!!
The Local School is a thoughtful book written by a thoughtful author. Colin Phelan uses a combination of personal experience, historical anecdotes, and good ole fashion youthful curiosity to craft a narrative that touches on multiple themes.
By weaving his personal experience in India with his new found perspective on his home town in Connecticut, Phelan challenges the reader to consider their own local area. It’s in these opening pages that Phelan’s voice begins to establish itself as one that’s comfortable not knowing all the answers. His genuine openness follows him halfway around the world (and back again) as Phelan describes his travels in India and the relationships he’s forged along the way.
It’s clear in his writing the positive ways Sanjit and Bajju have impacted Colin. Drawing back the curtain into the forging and solidifying of these personal connections the reader may begin to identify mentors in their own life. Phelan touches on the human connection with these men while simultaneously layering in the richness of Kolkata and other unique areas of India. By carefully describing Sanjit’s Kolkata apartment and the classes that took place there, Phelan seemingly absorbs the lessons both conscious and unconscious, and passes them on to the reader. It’s not far off to say that as a reader you very much feel a part of the room.
An additional aspect of this book that I thoroughly enjoyed was the information on the history of the Indian subcontinent. Phelan drops small nuggets of information all throughout this book that adds a whole new understanding to the environment he describes. It’s after these nuggets that I found myself exploring the different areas of India via Google Maps.
The final note I’d like to say about this book is totally personal. Any book that I’ve deeply connected with over my life has been written in a way that when I closed the book I felt like I had made a new friend in the author. I was able to spend some time in the author’s head and connect with their thoughts, views or feelings. I can undoubtedly say that Colin Phelan has that talent as an author, and I look forward to reading more of his work.
A nice debut work from Colin Phelan as someone who has truly immersed himself in Indian lifestyle. He paints a picture of Kolkata and India that one can only get having truly experienced it. Colin writes very passionately and it is clearly demonstrated in the respect he gives and the knowledge he’s garnered from the two men, Sanjit and Bajju. This book shows clearly how Colin learned from these international friendships and incorporated their teachings into his own outlook on life. I’m glad he addressed in the book the possibility of a ‘fascination’ aspect of being a white man turning to a different culture for a ‘better’ lifestyle. I appreciated the little tidbits of history found throughout the book; fitting for the author as a history teacher!
I’m excited for Colin to continue to find his voice. At times, the writing could be quite verbose leaving the message muddled and as the reader, I was lost. Persevere and the core tenets of the book comes through. I hope that Colin does not take offense as he states in his poem at the end of his desire for people to speak their minds.
Colin has a great knack for articulating details of life and travel that any reader would benefit from ruminating on. His journeys and growth throughout the book offer a glimpse into his experience in India and over the course, and ongoing development, of his relationships with Sanjit and Bajju. His closing chapter and call for a meeting place of learning and development is especially powerful as the reader is left with the hunger to adapt their own learning style and openness to the world around them. I look forward to the next piece of work from this promising author, blogger, and teacher!
This book details Colin Phelan’s journey traveling in India as a young Connecticut scholar studying at Boston College. His pedantic diction makes the reader feel as if they are in the classroom alongside Phelan, listening to Sanjit’s carefully crafted lectures. The reader can feel his passion for learning when he describes the conversations he explored with Bajju. Throughout “The Local School” Phelan details how he learned the Indian culture and traditions from these two men in an eloquently descriptive manner. Phelan is not afraid to show his mastery of the English language by tying the journey together with an original poem at the end of the book. As he plans to travel back to India soon, I am excited to dive into further writings from this young scholar.
Phelan’s “The Local School” will fascinate those with an interest in the intricacies of Indian culture as well as those without much prior knowledge at all, like myself. Filled with reflection and constant learning and growing, the stories and lessons that make up Phelan’s first book remind you that this is only the beginning of his exploration of the physical world and the minds and ways of life of all who inhabit it. Phelan has learned to take in every detail of his surroundings both during his travels and back in his hometown in Connecticut, allowing him to share his experiences in a way that makes you feel as though you are truly learning and growing right alongside him. He is able to integrate documented thoughts and reflections he had while traveling with those that occurred since returning home, demonstrating further and further growth as the pages turn. As someone recently aspiring to dive into the world of teaching myself, I appreciate his broad view on what education entails and breaking down the barrier of who we can, and should, learn from. I am eager to immerse myself in Phelan’s next documented adventures!
This book was an eye opener, to be honest I was completely surpriser by the author, between personal anecdotes, Colin Phelan transports the reader in a very mind opening journey, while traveling and meeting new people who shares his interest in education, Phelan describes his own friendship with Sanjit and Bajju, they share they knowledge in the educational system. Phelan completely changed my perspective of my community and truly spiked my interest in the way thing are set for the educational world. As a new author, and a teacher Colin Phelan promises great changes and I cant wait to read more about his perspective.
In "The Local School," author Colin Phelan blends, to very good effect, accessible history (of Kolkata, but also India at-large) with a more personal, memoirish style of narrative nonfiction. One particularly arresting passage finds Phelan sheltering from the rain with his friend Sanjit, who is something of a Bengali polymath and local didact. Trying his Hindi, Phelan says "Mein sas le raha hoon. Mein aram se," or "I am breathing. I am chill," and what follows is brief discourse on his and Sanjit's both being "pluviophiles" (one of the English words he--a native speaker--learns from Sanjit in that moment, the other: petrichor), who thrive on the rain. Of course, one must be a pluviophile to escape the "prickly heat" which plagues the dwellers of this region--especially the Westerners, like Orwell, who cursed the prickly heat in particular and, in addition to being British India-bred, spent years as an imperial constable in nearby Burma (now Myanmar). Fittingly, Phelan brings this intellectual heritage to the table as well, with his mention of "Burmese Days," (though Phelan's conversation partner, Sanjit, is much more Western-skeptical than Orwell's fictive Indian Dr Veraswami, perhaps appropriately when one considers the interceding history), which is set in a Burmese "hill station"--the kind of which could be found throughout India, Phelan tells us. I also immensely enjoyed the postmodern pique of Phelan's friend who remarks on the appearance of a tea store in the local Kolkata mall named, in the western fashion (but appropriative of eastern traditions) "Chai Tea" ("Why would they name a store "tea tea"? he asks)--an utter ouroboros of globalization.
Phelan's meditations on learning are often also meditations on the friendship and cultural interchange between he and his vivid friends, for Phelan's school is a richly peopled one. It's part travelogue, part blog, part dissertation. Readable and at times, enchanting.
This book might come across as a travelogue but in it's essence you read stories of two completely different individuals from different backgrounds and the beauty of it is that it is narrated from the perspective of another individual with again a completely different background. You gain perspective on a different kind of education, that anyone from any background can pursue. All of this combined with the backdrop of "the dying city" - Kolkata, really gives a glimpse into the lives of people who belong to the city with a soul.
The Local School is a refreshingly honest and thoughtful look at what teaching and learning looks like when life is your classroom and the people you meet along the way are your teachers. Phelan shares the simple, but important moments, exchanges and lessons learned through a special friendship developed over time that pushed against conventional educational mindsets and western thought as he comes into his own as an educator and global citizen in the true senses of the words.
Phelan hits on a great concept: sometimes our peers, loved ones, and environment has more to teach us than the established education systems. This book acts as a memoir, a recapturing of Phelan’s journey through India. The writing is pretty solid, clearly written by a well-traveled and educated writer. Phelan learns from many people who come in and out of his life, but this book focuses on two men that helped him grow. We explore more than just Phelan explaining what he’s learned; it’s the insight into a new way of living and growing as a person. He shares this through a journalistic memoir with some poetry—The poem “Kolkata’s Morning Song” does an excellent visualization job; I feel like I’m there.
Phelan does precisely what he wanted from this book. I’ll quote his own words to make the point: “We need conversation, Real conversation”
The Local School was a very immersive, informative, and also very entertaining read. Author Phelan conjures up great imagery in his writing, with detail that made me as a reader feel like I was experiencing rather than just reading the book. After finishing the book I felt I had a much greater understanding of India and it’s rich complexities and people. It didn’t feel like a memoir, and probably isn’t, or at least it felt like much more than that. This is a read that definitely falls between genre lines, but if you want something a little different I’d recommend giving it a go.
Colin captures India through the lens of a learner and adventurer reminding the reader the joys of experiencing life serendipitously. He navigates the cultural barriers of being in a foreign land and connects with two Indian men through a shared love for learning and living. As someone who grew up in India, I enjoyed revisiting my home land through Colin's perspective and learnt a lot in the process!
"The Local School" offers a fresh, insightful perspective on travel writing and what it means to receive an education. Reading about Phelan’s travels across the Indian subcontinent, a region I have never visited, I learned a great deal about Indian education, history, geography, and culture. However, the brilliance of this book is not only the descriptive way Phelan recounts his travels. Rather, Phelan’s genius extends from the ability to leverage his own travels in urging readers to reflect more deeply on where their feet are planted.
I found this book to be a powerful tool for reflecting on sources of education in my own life. The core of Phelan’s book is summarized in the preface: “This book pays tribute to a localized yet universally relevant perception of education: that the best schools are our local schools, ones of friends, of family, of all the people serendipitously encountered in your own neighborhood.” Phelan’s encounters with Sanjit and Bajju are profound examples of how we can serendipitously glean wisdom in our lives. Never before have I thought this deeply about people so distant from myself. However, because of the shared humanity Phelan describes, their lessons and perspectives began to inform my own life. Reading this book, I felt empowered to reflect on who the Sanjit and Bajju, or serendipitous educators, are in my own life.
Typically, I turn to travel writing to be transported to a place I have never, and often will never be fortunate enough to visit. Phelan masterfully accomplishes this. However, his writing style also extrapolates lessons from his travels to the reader’s locality. Because of this, I am taking home much more from this book than typical, and will continue to revisit it to inform my perspective. For anyone seeking a similar experience, I cannot recommend this book enough. Phelan offers a unique approach to travel writing, and I am excited to see what else he has in store.
Usually, when most people think of school, they think of formal education. This book challenges that idea in wonderful ways. Really, we learn most of our important lessons from those around us, family, friends, neighbors, and Phelan really brings that to life in this. Phelan really brings everything to life, allowing the reader to step through the pages and experience everything through his eyes. I learned a lot about India, and feel like I really got to know a variety of people. Highly recommend, you won’t want to put this down once you start reading!
He’s fooled us with his slick writing into learning something. I should have guessed it by reading the title: “The Local School”. How dare you Mr. Phelan? You craft such an amazing story taken from great travel accounts and profound personal growth, only to ruin it all with education. I hope that you’re happy with yourself Colin! You’ve forced me to re-examine my life and actually have an emotional response to a book. I actually cried at the end! What is this?!
This wasn’t especially well written (it’s not bad either) and it wasn’t very long or exciting, but it was heartfelt and the sincerity and love from the author towards the topic of the book and the characters from his life just oozes out of the pages despite everything. It came together for me but I can see how it wouldn’t for some people.
The title, The Local School, drew me in, as did the idea—that education is a lifestyle that is best pursued within one’s local community. Though interesting, the book ended up feeling more like a travelogue than a narrative about the value of local education. The book is written by Phelan, a young man who travels within India and meets Sanjit, a teacher in Kolkata, and his friend Bajju, a truck driver from Northern India.
It is a short book that also includes a smattering of poetry. Phelan makes some interesting observations about the cultures of India through the perspective of his relationship with these two men. But the premise of the book—the value of a local school embedded in one’s community—doesn't jive. Mostly because Bajju, who appears more like an assistant to Sanjit than a pupil or friend given that he frequently is described as serving tea to pupils and to Sanjit, lives hundreds of miles from his own family and his own community in the town of Garhwa. He lives with Sanjit for several months out of the year so he can attend Sanjit’s informal school. Phelan writes how Bajju misses his four young children and his wife and even has a job there. Surely there would be a "local" school within the Garhwa region, which has a population of 46,000, that Bajju could attend in his own community.
Perhaps a more fitting title would be "My Travels through India," given Phelan provides the reader with interesting insights and histories of Kolkata, Delhi, Kashmir, and Garhwal.
This book suffered from not having a good editor and publisher. A strong editor would've prevented the author from trying to tackle four big topics in one slim book: 1) history of India and Bengal under colonialization, post-colonization and today, 2) the relationship between the author's teacher Sanjit and fellow student Bajju (the most interesting part of the book), 3) the need to re-examine and re-invigorate teaching in the West, especially during and post-pandemic, 4) the author's own loss of direction while an undergrad. A good editor would've pointed out that only once did Phelan mention a woman by name (Bajju's wife, so she's only mentioned because of her association to Bajju), and that the entire narrative is male-focused. Which is okay except that there seems to be an emphasis on having a progressive approach to education and that seems at odds with an experience that features no females. Lastly, a good editor would remove the semicolon from Phelan's keyboard to get rid of the never-ending run-on sentences in the first chapter that require a lot of double-reading. And a good editor would make the author's return key larger to make several paragraphs shorter. This really isn't a critique so much about Phelan's writing as it is about the publisher. Clearly Phelan is a novice writer and could've used a lot of help here. Oh, and there are even issues with design, as in, sometimes the text color changes from black to dark gray for no reason. Sometimes the fonts change when text from an email is presented but then the font doesn't go back to the original font when the narrative returns. I'm NOT an editor or a publisher; these are my observations. I do like the book cover though.
If I had to pick a single word to describe this book, it would be "interesting." In both the regular sense, as in "it interests me" and in what I think of as the American sense, where it's used when people are trying to say they aren't quite sure what to make of it, but don't want to come out and say so or that they didn't like it. This sort of memoir or personal ramblings elicited both types of reactions in me. I did find Phelan's ramblings on friendship, brotherhood, learning, teachers and cross cultural experiences quite fascinating, but don't think I have a handle on how all the random bit hang together. Would I get published if I put down my ideas together in such a fashion--I'd have to see wouldn't I? Maybe some day...
What this book is and what it says it is (and what I hoped it would be) are unfortunately not the same.
What it is: at times a fun, meandering narrative of a young American's travel and self exploration, intermingled with a brief and inadequately detailed description of Indian colonialization by the British. I hope the author realizes the irony in pointing out the exploitation of Indian forests at the hands of the British, while also describing how he too is extracting value from the region.
What it isn't: the book claims it "explores a counterintuitive perception of education and the need for an education renaissance," yet not nearly enough of these 170 pages focus on this subject. The author brings up some interesting points about the differences between a formal, Western education and one you may receive from locals and colleagues, but there is not enough exploration here to make this book as interesting as it was promised to be.
i don’t think this quite delivered on what was promised but as an aspiring history teacher i found it interesting nonetheless.
i don’t feel like phelan talked about the ‘why’ of the points he made, and it would have benefitted from more in depth reflections. i generally think phelan could have benefited from waiting longer to write / publish this book, it feels like there is a lot left to discuss / discover and the integral story is quite interesting so i would have loved for it to be more in depth and longer. maybe he'll write a sequel... i would be very interested to see how his relationship with bajju and sanjit develops and how he integrates his learnings into the classroom.
I don't think this book achieves what it tries to do. It is too short to really make us understand the point, and it has some scattered ideas (albeit some interesting ones) that don't really come together at the end.
After finishing the book, all I thought was, "That's it?"
The book is divided in two parts: One of them talks about Colin's trip to India and his conversations with Sanjit, a teacher he meets in India with a different teaching method. The other one talks about the history of India. I feel like the history lessons don't mesh well with the rest of the book. In the end, it felt like I read something that I will forget very soon.