A worthy investigation into the root cause of public education failures in the United States.



A probing look at the inequalities that plague American schools.

From the start, the book is clear on its aim to call “attention to those laws and policies that prevent most American kids from having equal access to the best public schools.” DeRoche, a consultant who’s advised nonprofit organizations on K-12 education reform, makes his case patiently and carefully, but his frustration is palpable at the outset as he addresses why schools located so close together can be so far apart in performance. In the book’s opening section, he shows how institutional problems have led to the betrayal of “the American promise of public education.” According to him, the public education problem is primarily a problem of access, and he blames educational redlining. It’s a form of systemic discrimination that creates “attendance zones,” and these, “as drawn by district bureaucrats,” give school administrators a policy tool to exclude children who live in certain neighborhoods—particularly black and brown communities. The book presents a series of maps of attendance zones in several major metropolitan areas to show how many school districts can be mapped onto their redlined boundaries from 1939. “Today’s geographic discrimination,” he writes, “still reflects the patterns of racial and geographic discrimination of the mid-1900s.” Attendance zones, he says, also drive some parents to take desperate measures such as address fraud, in which a parent pretends to live in a different zone to gain access to its schools. In later chapters, the author enumerates the ways in which attendance zones are illegal and what litigation battles might look like in state courts.

DeRoche, who previously wrote The Ballad of Huck & Miguel (2018), writes with purpose and clarity, and he makes a strong, decisive case against current attendance-zoning practices. He draws most of his examples from populous cities: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta. The sheer number of students in these systems leads to a pressurized, ruthless environment, he asserts, in which parents will do anything for the few open spots at high-achieving schools. The book capably integrates statistics and data with visual representations, including maps, charts, and graphs, which help support the author’s arguments. Its 12 chapters in three sections are further subdivided with headings and bullet points, which makes information easy to digest. Although there’s plenty of blame to go around, DeRoche is more interested in working to reform the current dysfunctional state. He takes a forgiving approach to parents who manipulate the system: “They’re all working within the system that exists now,” he writes, and they’re “just doing what they think is best for their kids.” However, he doesn’t shy away from the root of the problem—institutionalized racism. He writes especially well when articulating a rallying cry for change: “We should all be troubled when we see that long-standing educational policies seem to work at cross-purposes to the core constitutional promises of our democracy.” Overall, this book diagnoses far more than it prescribes, but that’s to be expected when dealing with thorny and intricate issues.

A worthy investigation into the root cause of public education failures in the United States.

Pub Date: May 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-9992776-2-1

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Redtail Press

Review Posted Online: April 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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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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Everything about Sabathia is larger than life, yet he tells his story with honesty and humility.


One of the best pitchers of his generation—and often the only Black man on his team—shares an extraordinary life in baseball.

A high school star in several sports, Sabathia was being furiously recruited by both colleges and professional teams when the death of his grandmother, whose Social Security checks supported the family, meant that he couldn't go to college even with a full scholarship. He recounts how he learned he had been drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the first round over the PA system at his high school. In 2001, after three seasons in the minor leagues, Sabathia became the youngest player in MLB (age 20). His career took off from there, and in 2008, he signed with the New York Yankees for seven years and $161 million, at the time the largest contract ever for a pitcher. With the help of Vanity Fair contributor Smith, Sabathia tells the entertaining story of his 19 seasons on and off the field. The first 14 ran in tandem with a poorly hidden alcohol problem and a propensity for destructive bar brawls. His high school sweetheart, Amber, who became his wife and the mother of his children, did her best to help him manage his repressed fury and grief about the deaths of two beloved cousins and his father, but Sabathia pursued drinking with the same "till the end" mentality as everything else. Finally, a series of disasters led to a month of rehab in 2015. Leading a sober life was necessary, but it did not tame Sabathia's trademark feistiness. He continued to fiercely rile his opponents and foment the fighting spirit in his teammates until debilitating injuries to his knees and pitching arm led to his retirement in 2019. This book represents an excellent launching point for Jay-Z’s new imprint, Roc Lit 101.

Everything about Sabathia is larger than life, yet he tells his story with honesty and humility.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-13375-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Roc Lit 101

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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