An absorbing entry into the burgeoning genre about necessary education reforms.

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THE PRIZE

WHO'S IN CHARGE OF AMERICA'S SCHOOLS?

The story of Chris Christie, Cory Booker, Mark Zuckerberg, and the $100 million grant for fixing New Jersey—and possibly all American—schools.

Go back five years, before Booker moved on from his post as mayor of Newark to join Congress; before Christie had fumbled his momentum over some petty payback involving a bridge; before…well, OK, Zuckerberg was already plenty wealth—wealthy and interested in finding a way to enable major shifts in education reform. Booker was a popular mayor, and Christie was a popular governor. Both had aspirations for higher office, and both wanted to get there by instituting major change in New Jersey. So what better arena than the school system of Newark, with its vertigo-inducing rates of dropouts, crumbling school buildings, and shameful academic standings? In her first book, expanded from a serialized New Yorker article, former Washington Post reporter Russakoff tells the story of how Christie leveraged his political power, Booker provided the charisma and inspiring speeches, and together they netted Zuckerberg and a $100 million donation. They raised money from other donors, as well, predicting a battle against entrenched interests on both sides of the aisle intent on maintaining the status quo: unionized teachers and an entire industry of “educational consultant experts” moving from district to district, ostensibly “fixing” many of the problems through trainings, incentive programs, and other initiatives that would, as Christie and Booker noted, serve only to reinforce efforts in directions that had proven ineffective. Russakoff digs deep into the story, examining the seemingly well-intentioned efforts to bring change; the “good-news publicity storm” that Booker mastered, raising his profile while neglecting his responsibilities; Zuckerberg’s amazingly shortsighted faith in the level of control the politicians wielded; and the families caught up in the whirlwind, trying to find a reason to believe in the government’s plans for their schools. An appendix lists all the recipients of the grant money and other funds.

An absorbing entry into the burgeoning genre about necessary education reforms.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-547-84005-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE

Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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