2018. Woo boy. Lots to unpack, but we’ll circle back to the year that was – next week.
In the spirit of Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa, I’d like to offer readers the gift of information. Sure, it’s like opening up your carefully hung stocking to a neatly rolled pair of thick socks on Christmas morning, but when have you ever not needed socks? Like socks, (ok, stay with me here) information provides a layer of support when we need it most. Yeah, that’s it.
Understanding the world around me is how I best function in this life. Having an open mind and heart that seek first to understand people, behaviors, maladies, and events are the only way I know how to human. So I read. And listen. Even if I disagree with an author or speaker on most issues, especially if we disagree on most issues. This allows me to understand and respect the opposition, reinforce my beliefs, and identify smart solutions.
Toward that end, I recommend three books and a podcast that both shifted my soul and reinforced my walk this year. The recommendations are important for anyone who cares about our youth and public education, but I strongly urge all parents to check them out, and Black parents of young men will find one of the books particularly poignant.
Here we go.
1. Between the World and Me – Ta-Neheisi Coates
Coates’ memoir, penned within the framework of a letter to his teenage son, is a raw look into society and systems – namely public education – that are ill-designed to educate, protect, and prepare black children for the world around them and abroad. Coates shares the loss of a murdered friend by a cop, life-saving navigation of Baltimore’s gang-owned streets in the early nineties, dropping out of college, falling in love, and becoming a young father. His words are heartbreaking and beautiful and tragic and hopeful.
2. Savage Inequalities – Jonathan Kozol
If you find the title jarring, please note that it perfectly describes the horrors found in many urban schools across the country — when the book was written in 1991. Tragically, little has changed for schools in low-income communities of color around the country, except for the addition of charter schools offering parents another option.
I suspect the book was so moving to me because the timeframe of this body of work includes 1989, the year I graduated from high school. The students Kozol interviewed are my peers and the same system failing the school districts highlighted in the book also failed me and many of my friends. After reading this detailed account of the savage inequalities and inequity of the public school system, please miss me with the BS case making charter schools the fall guy for today’s issues in traditional public schools. This book tells us that this system was a mess and bad for low-income and children of color before charters became a thing.
After more than a year of reading studies and talking to parents and educators about local literacy woes and being told parents are the problem, this podcast comes along and debunks that notion. Instead of laying blame on an easy target, Emily Hanford a reporter for American Public Media, tells us our children can be “explicitly and systematically” taught to read — in school. And, yes, parents have a role.
4. Allegedly – Tiffany D. Jackson
I rarely read fiction and this year I read more fiction than in all of my 40+ years of reading combined.
So why is YA (young adult) fiction on the list with heartbreaking realities as told by Coates and Kozol? The book’s ending shook me to my core! This Hallmark Christmas movie fanatic was not all happy reading the dramatic tale of a nine-year-old black girl accused of murdering a white baby but appreciate the writing, storytelling, and sucker punch.
Below is a short list of books I had the pleasure of reading this year that continue to inspire me:
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter – Erika L. Sanchez (YA Fiction)
How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success from One of the Nation’s Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education – Arne Duncan (Nonfiction)
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption – Bryan Stevenson (Nonfiction, also adapted for YA)
Wishing you the best of the season and happy reading!