Broadcast journalist Stewart examines the legendary reputation for excellence of a historic, all-black Washington, D.C., high school, then documents the decline of that excellence in more recent decades.
Since both of her parents were graduates of Dunbar High School and now have successful careers, the author took an interest in the subject. Like so many other proud (and sometimes famous) Dunbar graduates, Stewart's parents felt dismay at how America's first black public high school let standards slip. But at the beginning of the 21st century, Dunbar, founded in 1870, seemed like yet another chaotic inner-city institution, with rowdy students the norm instead of the exception. Stewart is an able historian, and the saga of how blacks and influential whites managed to establish a school of the caliber of Dunbar in a viciously segregated society so soon after the Civil War is extraordinary and inspirational by any measure. The mostly chronological narrative is less lively as Stewart offers a contemporary catalog of educational horrors. So many authors before Stewart have chronicled problems similar to Dunbar's that reading might present a feeling of déjà vu for many readers. Stewart persuasively places significant blame on parents of contemporary Dunbar students for showing little or no involvement in the school activities of their children. The director of the marching band told Stewart that he had never met the parents of the participating children. The author suggests that the model of Barack Obama as a black president fails to work for teenagers who have never shown the interest or aptitude for learning subjects that will lead to a college education.
A well-reported, passionate study of the triggers for failure and success within American urban education.