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Our Schools Suck

Our Schools Suck: Students Talk Back to a Segregated Nation on the Failures of Urban Education

Gaston Alonso
Noel S. Anderson
Celina Su
Jeanne Theoharis
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Our Schools Suck
    Book Description:

    "Our schools suck." This is how many young people of color call attention to the kind of public education they are receiving. In cities across the nation, many students are trapped in under-funded, mismanaged and unsafe schools. Yet, a number of scholars and of public figures like Bill Cosby have shifted attention away from the persistence of school segregation to lambaste the values of young people themselves. Our Schools Suck forcefully challenges this assertion by giving voice to the compelling stories of African American and Latino students who attend under-resourced inner-city schools, where guidance counselors and AP classes are limited and security guards and metal detectors are plentiful - and grow disheartened by a public conversation that continually casts them as the problem with urban schools.By showing that young people are deeply committed to education but often critical of the kind of education they are receiving, this book highlights the dishonesty of public claims that they do not value education. Ultimately, these powerful student voices remind us of the ways we have shirked our public responsibility to create excellent schools. True school reform requires no less than a new civil rights movement, where adults join with young people to ensure an equal education for each and every student.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-0776-0
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-30)
    Celina Su

    In 2003, Jorman Nuñez looked like a troublemaker. At fourteen years old, he should have been learning about American history, performing his first dissection in science class, and tackling algebra. Instead, by March of his freshman year at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, he began to routinely cut classes. Knowing his mother would be disappointed in him, he stayed clear of his apartment during school hours. Each morning, he dragged himself out of bed by 7:00 and tried to entertain himself outdoors until it was time to go home. He started hanging out with older teenagers and other...

  5. 1 Culture Trap: Talking about Young People of Color and Their Education
    (pp. 31-68)
    Gaston Alonso

    During the spring of 2006, Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson took to the pages of theNew York Timesto decry the conditions of low academic achievement, persistent poverty, and violence plaguing Black communities. “The tragedy unfolding in our inner cities is a time-slice of a deep historical process that runs far back through the cataracts and deluge of our racist past,” he wrote. “Most black Americans have by now miraculously escaped its consequences. The disconnected fifth languishing in the ghettos is the remains.” Patterson focused his comments on those young men still “languishing in the ghettos” who fail to graduate...

  6. 2 “I Hate It When People Treat Me Like a Fxxx-up”: Phony Theories, Segregated Schools, and the Culture of Aspiration among African American and Latino Teenagers
    (pp. 69-112)
    Jeanne Theoharis

    Public discourse on urban education has been overtaken by a discussion of values. As chapter 1 elaborated, it has become common sense to bemoan the declining value of education within urban Black and Latino communities, to assume a priori that students who value education succeed in school and that those with poor values drop out. This misinformed discussion about values not only takes the responsibility for schools away from the society that creates them and places it solely on students and their parents but distorts the regard for education held in the African American and Latino communities. Moreover, it caricatures...

  7. 3 “They Ain’t Hiring Kids from My Neighborhood”: Young Men of Color Negotiating Poor Public Schools and Poor Work Options in New York City
    (pp. 113-142)
    Noel S. Anderson

    In New York City, subway performers are a common sight, an everpresent feature of the cultural and commercial cityscape. These performers amuse strap-hangers and entertain camera-wielding tourists with song and dance, helping to both reinforce and sell an “authentic” New York City experience. In addition to getting the gratuitous applause from spectators, these performers make some money, collecting the spare change from people’s pockets. However, while the street performance enhances an arts-rich image of the city, it also conceals realities of urban life. It casts a shadow on a world in which many people live, where street performance is one...

  8. 4 “Where Youth Have an Actual Voice”: Teenagers as Empowered Stakeholders in School Reform
    (pp. 143-176)
    Celina Su

    When Hector was a freshman in high school, he did not always study as hard as he could. At the urging of a friend, though, he joined Sistas and Brothas United (SBU) and began to work with them regularly after school. SBU is a youth organizing group that works to improve conditions at schools around the South and Northwest Bronx.

    The school Hector attended at the time, John F. Kennedy High, reported high rates of violence, a severe shortage of guidance counselors, broken escalators, and unusable fire-safety mechanisms. Hector struggled just to get through each school day. Still, when he...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 177-214)
    Jeanne Theoharis

    Barbara, an African American junior, attended a school that enrolled no white students and contained twice as many children as it was built to hold. Classes sometimes took place in the school auditorium and other makeshift spaces. The district’s only concession was to erect tarpaper shacks to hold the extra students that often were very cold. The school lacked a cafeteria and a gym. It had limited science labs, and the school did not offer physics, world history, or Latin. Teachers were underpaid and had to do jobs reserved for janitors in other schools.¹ Tanisha, an African American junior, also...

  10. Methodological Appendix: Listening to Young People
    (pp. 215-232)
    Gaston Alonso
  11. Notes
    (pp. 233-274)
  12. Index
    (pp. 275-286)
  13. About the Authors
    (pp. 287-288)
  14. [Illustration]
    (pp. 289-289)