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A FINE LINE

HOW MOST AMERICAN KIDS ARE KEPT OUT OF THE BEST PUBLIC SCHOOLS

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

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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

BLACK LOVE LETTERS

A wide-ranging collection of testaments to what moves the heart.

Black Americans declare their love.

This anthology brings together dozens of love letters by prominent Black Americans. The entries, interspersed with illustrations, address an eclectic mix of topics arranged under five categories: Care, Awe, Loss, Ambivalence, and Transformation. In their introduction, editors Brown and Johnson note the book’s inspiration in the witnessing of violence directed at Black America. Reckonings with outrage and grief, they explain, remain an urgent task and a precondition of creating and sustaining loving bonds. The editors seek to create “a site for our people to come together on the deepest, strongest emotion we share” and thus open “the possibility for shared deliverance” and “carve out a space for healing, together.” This aim is powerfully realized in many of the letters, which offer often poignant portrayals of where redemptive love has and might yet be found. Among the most memorable are Joy Reid’s “A Love Letter to My Hair,” a sensitive articulation of a hard-won sense of self-love; Morgan Jerkins’ “Dear Egypt,” an exploration of a lifelong passion for an ancient world; and VJ Jenkins’ “Pops and Dad,” an affirmation that it “is beautiful to be Black, to be a man, and to be gay.” Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts’ “Home: A Reckoning” is particularly thoughtful and incisive in its examination of a profound attachment, “in the best and worst ways,” to Louisville, Kentucky. Most of the pieces pair personal recollections with incisive cultural commentary. The cumulative effect of these letters is to set forth a panorama of opportunities for maintaining the ties that matter most, especially in the face of a cultural milieu that continues to produce virulent forms of love’s opposite. Other contributors include Nadia Owusu, Jamila Woods, Ben Crump, Eric Michael Dyson, Kwame Dawes, Jenna Wortham, and Imani Perry.

A wide-ranging collection of testaments to what moves the heart.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2023

ISBN: 9781638931201

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Get Lifted Books/Zando

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2023

TILL THE END

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 11, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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