SING A RHYTHM, DANCE A BLUES

EDUCATION FOR THE LIBERATION OF BLACK AND BROWN GIRLS

A forward-thinking vision likely to appeal most to school decision-makers with progressive views.

A field manual that shows how to keep black girls in school and out of prison.

Morris (Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, 2016, etc.) begins with a promising idea: that blues songs are a musical underground railroad or conduit to freedom. The author, the co-founder of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute, suggests that artists like Billie Holiday—whose work expresses both pain and power—can “help educators, parents, students, and community members reimagine schools as places that counter the criminalization of Black and Brown girls” or interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline that sets up those girls for lives stunted by incarceration. After her introduction, however, Morris uses the blues mainly as a clothesline on which she hangs an assortment of school-based strategies that foster “educational justice.” Building on the ideas in Pushout, she argues that black female students are disproportionately harmed by exclusionary discipline measures like suspension and expulsion and need “safe learning spaces.” In her most provocative chapter, she recommends removing police from schools and praises a San Diego school that instead uses older women (fondly called “the grandmothers”) as proctors or hall monitors. Morris also favors restorative justice programs, transformative mentoring initiatives, and in-school suspensions in soothing rooms with “a Maker’s Corner” that lets girls calm down with tactile activities. Useful as such tactics might be in some schools, the author can be a harsh judge of teachers whose methods she faults. The text is heavy on left-leaning educational jargon about such things as the “patriarchal, heteronormative, Eurocentric nature of most pedagogical approaches and academic content,” which schools might buffer by offering weekly discussion groups “that engage girls in Black feminist theory.” Morris is certainly right that teachers should examine their biases, but the presentation of her material may limit the audience to readers who work in education.

A forward-thinking vision likely to appeal most to school decision-makers with progressive views.

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-62097-399-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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