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Celis, William

Celis, William

PERSONAL: Male. Education: Graduate of Howard Payne College; Columbia University, M.A.

ADDRESSES: Office—Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California, 3502 Watt Way, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0281. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Educator and journalist. New York Times, New York, NY, national education correspondent; Wall Street Journal, reporter and columnist; Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, assistant professor.

WRITINGS:

Battle Rock: The Struggle over a One-Room School in America's Vanishing West, Public Affairs (New York, NY), 2002.

Contributor to periodicals, including New York Times and American Prospect.

SIDELIGHTS: In 1999, William Celis took a one-year leave from his position as a journalism professor at the University of Southern California to live in Cortez, Colorado, located in McElmo Canyon in the state's southwest corner. In Cortez, Celis, a former national education reporter for the New York Times, documented a trend that began in the 1990s, the establishment of small, rural schools to serve the families who had relocated from urban areas. The subject school of Battle Rock: The Struggle over a One-Room School in America's Vanishing West has actually been in existence since 1915. This caused problems with the new arrivals around such issues as updating plumbing. The longtime residents felt the outhouses were adequate, while the newcomers wanted a remodel.

There have been tensions over other issues, as well, and in describing them, Celis profiles a cast of characters that ranges from young to old, rich to poor, educated to uneducated. Paula Friedman commented in the New York Times Book Review that Celis "presents an engaging, evenhanded account of these uneasily merging cultures."

Celis writes of his relationships with the established and new residents and with the minister of the Assembly of God Church, but his central character is Stephen Hanson. Hanson had taught in various locations and cultures, including aboriginal children in Australia, and eventually relocated to the Four Corners area because his parents had retired there. He taught on a Navajo reservation before becoming a teacher at Battle Rock. The established families unfavorably compared Hanson to his predecessor, a woman who had taught there for four decades. The transplant parents tended to favor him more, but they created strain when they asked for additions to the curriculum that the school budget could not accommodate. Hanson taught twenty-six children, in grades K through six.

Hanson took his students on hikes to the nearby Anasazi ruins and incorporated other learning experiences into his class, but when harvests and cattle drives took precedent, the children often did not attend school for weeks at a time. When his teaching was criticized, he offered to resign, but stayed on at the urging of other parents. Marc Ramirez reviewed the book for the Seattle Times Online, saying that "what is compelling is the clash between urban and rural sensibilities. Celis, himself city bred, serves up telling examples of the county's transformation. Urbanities are flustered by rural realities such as the labor of wood-burning stoves or the shock of cattle-trampled flowerbeds."

Denver Post contributor Steve Weinberg wrote that what Celis "takes back to urban California after the year of immersion journalism includes a lot of positives. He saw some of the schoolchildren grow intellectually and emotionally. He watched parents who disliked each other at first pull together for the common good of Battle Rock school."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Denver Post, November 10, 2002, Steve Weinberg, review of Battle Rock: The Struggle over a One-Room School in America's Vanishing West.

New York Times, February 2, 2003, Paula Friedman, review of Battle Rock, p. 20.

Publishers Weekly, October 7, 2002, review of Battle Rock, p. 63.

ONLINE

Seattle Times Online, http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/ (February 5, 2004), Marc Ramirez, review of Battle Rock.

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