A compelling scrutiny of the resegregation of American public schools, and of those fighting against a return to the bad old days.
In her expertly constructed narrative, Eaton (The Other Boston Busing Story, not reviewed, etc.) analyzes the complex factors hindering fair access to a quality education for the nation’s children, a problem with a long and messy history. Beginning with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, the U.S. courts were, for a few decades, a place where civil rights made significant gains. But in many locales the attempts at desegregation were never well established, and by the late ’80s, the ground gained was quickly being lost. The roots of today’s educational inequity are, for many, almost invisible. The author presents a charming group of kids from an inner-city school in Hartford, Conn., who struggle to learn in a typically demoralized and under-funded urban public school. Eaton takes her time illustrating how inner-city students, many from single-parent families of the working poor and from crowded, broken-down neighborhoods, require more support than their suburban counterparts in lavishly funded schools. Spend a day or a week or a year with many of the students in Room E4, as she did, and the urgent need for improved educational equity becomes clear. Eaton supplements her richly textured classroom portrait with accounts of the courtroom progress of Sheff v. O’Neil, a lawsuit striving to make legally explicit the “blameless” segregation created by the convergence of zoning regulations, municipal politics, discriminatory housing and banking policies and the creation of suburbs. She demonstrates that de jure segregation has been replaced by de facto segregation. There are few winners in this account, and it’s clear that the problems of our troubled public schools have no easy or quick solution.
Eaton investigates what it truly means to say we will leave no child behind—and asks if we have the commitment to live up to that promise.