19 February 2015

Book Review: The Kids from Nowhere

The Kids from Nowhere: The Story Behind the Arctic Educational Miracle by George Guthrie is a moving story about a group of students and their determined teacher on their journey to nationals in the Future Problem Solvers educational competition.

The Kids from Nowhere is one of those inspirational tales a la Dangerous Minds, Dead Poets Society, Freedom Writers, etc. As a professor, I love stories like this; they motivate me to be better and remind me that students do actually want to learn, something not so obvious on a daily basis.

What makes this addition to the educational-inspiration oeuvre unique is its cast of characters. The students are mainly Yupik Eskimos on a small island in Alaska who are thought of as ineducable. Then there is the teacher, who differs from the standard motivational teacher in his readily admitted flaws including continuous thoughts of giving up and honestly, his very understandable right to do so. His family, in particular his daughters, brings a whole new level to the tale in the discrimination they face for being white. Add on administrators and other teachers who are completely (and irrationally) opposed to the students' success and you have a believable, frustrating, amazing, very real group of people that I wanted to know more about.

Another giant plus for me is the applicability of the educational pedagogy to my own students' learning. I had never heard of the Future Problem Solvers before; now I am determined to learn more and to apply the strategy in my own classes. Guthridge personalized the experience for his students, using their particular culture not just as content but as method. For more information about the competition, visit the Future Problem Solving Program International website. I know I will be.

My only problem with this story is the random perspective changes. The story is predominantly from Guthridge's point of view; he is both the narrator and the focaliser. From time to time, however, the story shifts to the point of view of one of the students, not often and not all of the students or even all the primary students receive this honor though; this makes these perspective shifts unbelievable and relatively pointless. Am I supposed to believe Guthridge is privy to the private thoughts of these students or that the students themselves wrote these passages? This is a slight annoyance however, and I was mainly reading for the content not the form.

Whether you enjoy David and Goliath stories, educational-inspiration tales, stories set in unique locations, or diverse and interesting characters, I recommend picking this book up. While it will certainly appeal to educators of all grade levels, I firmly believe the book is both entertaining and edifying for those outside the educational system as well.

I must thank Bree from The Things We Read for introducing me to this book through her review of it and for sending it to me!


  1. You're welcome! Were you in awe at the material these "ineducable" students were learning? I couldn't believe it. I have zero desire to learn that stuff as an adult, I can't imagine having enough attention span to try and learn as a teenager. I'm glad you enjoyed book.

    1. This book definitely shows how students can rise to a challenge. Their studies were college level for sure.

  2. This is totally irrelevant to this post, but for some reason my computer won't let me get to the comments on Carter's post. So...congratulations!! I swear to god you just announced you were pregnant (although I'm sure it didn't feel like that to you), so it seems like those months just flew by. ;-) This is what happens when you fail to keep up on reading blogs. And yes, Carter Lee is totally a Civil War era name. I expect mutton chops when he's old enough for facial hair.


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