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

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"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 "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.


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"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 "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.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ashley Bakker

    I absolutely LOVE reading stories about students by students. The beginning chapter really hooked me, but by the end I was feeling like I'd read the same thing over and over again about a million times. Worth borrowing, my friends, particularly if you care about education, the children of tomorrow, being a decent human being, having air to breathe, and waking up in the morning. So I guess what I'm saying is, read it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Isu Eng

    By English 101 Section 46 (Fall 2010), Illinois State University: Matt Barabasz, Danielle Bozek, Courtney Daly, Bree Darden, Carli Dunn, Renee Durant, Ashley Egan, Eric Elget, Brent Fisher, Caitlin Graff, Steve Halle, Kim Howard, Sasha Keske, Megan Lawler, Katie Lewandowksi, Mollie Marshall, Katie Meyers, Jamie Nelson, Ashley Pollitt, Janelle Reichardt, Jess Rogers, Johnna Van Dien, and Chaz Williams In the book Our Schools Suck: Students Talk Back to a Segregated Nation About the Failures of Urb By English 101 Section 46 (Fall 2010), Illinois State University: Matt Barabasz, Danielle Bozek, Courtney Daly, Bree Darden, Carli Dunn, Renee Durant, Ashley Egan, Eric Elget, Brent Fisher, Caitlin Graff, Steve Halle, Kim Howard, Sasha Keske, Megan Lawler, Katie Lewandowksi, Mollie Marshall, Katie Meyers, Jamie Nelson, Ashley Pollitt, Janelle Reichardt, Jess Rogers, Johnna Van Dien, and Chaz Williams In the book Our Schools Suck: Students Talk Back to a Segregated Nation About the Failures of Urban Education, Gaston Alonso, Noel S. Anderson, Celina Su, and Jeanne Theoharis, focus on the integration of schools in urban settings and the personal experiences of students who are active in the school system. The communities in which students live shape them, yet each individual needs and deserves an education. Students’ daily environment reflects the way they act, and this book “refocuses the public debate onto failed education as one of the causes…of the state of urban youth today” (6). Most people think that it is the student’s fault when they do not do well. The anecdotes and journals from Our Schools Suck, however, show that there are other contributing factors. The book shows an example of a student, Michael, who goes above and beyond to show that the education system is not right where he is. This student confronts an administrator, Dennis Walcott, the Deputy Mayor of Education, at Martin Luther King High School in the Bronx. In an interview, Michael describes the confrontation: He’s sitting there playing with his Palm Pilot, like this, when I’m talking about the concerns we have. So I stopped talking, lift up my chair and walk across the room around the table to where he’s sitting and plop my chair down next to him so that I am in his face and he can listen to me. I saw him looking at me, like, “What are you doing!!?” But after I did that, he listened. (163) This example shows that students are willing to stand up to teachers or authority figures in order make sure they get the education they need. Most policymakers or government officials try to blame urban students for not valuing their education, but this example proves that students are not always at fault. In fact, students have no problem speaking their piece, for in this book; they try and make a difference, even if it means having to act out to do so. Beyond the attitudes of the students, the conditions they are forced to learn in contribute to their lack of motivation. Our Schools Suck vividly describes the environment of Freemont High School in Los Angeles, California, which is plagued with overpopulation and teachers who lack drive and passion. In certain instances we read of teachers hoping students do not show up to class because “the system banks on-indeed needs truancy” (72). As well as trying to make their job as easy as possible, even if that means putting students at a disadvantage for the future. 16% of students who enter Freemont High School as freshmen leave after four years with enough requirements to attend a four year university. As college students and pre-service teachers who are mainly from suburban settings, we feel the statistics given to us are not only shocking but are able to give us a window to the urban schools and the system on which it’s based. We feel compelled by the parts of Our Schools Suck when the students had a definite student voice. Our interest was lost during the parts that were purely academic because the personal experiences speak louder than statistics. Although the book’s background information can be repetitive and loaded with redundancy it gives credibility to the stories and personal experiences the students discuss. Our Schools Suck points out a disturbing trend in contemporary political rhetoric, as it calls attention to authors, scholars, and other public figures like Bill Cosby, who are quick to blame minority students, as individuals, for their failure in urban education. According to Cosby and others, minority students do not value educational success, opting instead to adopt a “cool pose” and refusing to “act white” by doing well in school. The greatest success of Our Schools Suck, in our opinion, is offering a counterpoint to this misguided and stereotypical belief. The anecdotal evidence from primary research reveals a different story by showing motivated minority students, some of whom have even “dropped out” because of the poor material conditions and lack of support in their schools. In combination with the detrimental effects of legislation like No Child Left Behind and the culture of high-stakes testing, Our Schools Suck proves the educational system, including both the government and administrative bodies, has not only failed to serve its students but also has ignored the impassioned pleas and activism of students, without whose input any change is futile.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Meen

    Oh wow, this is going right up to the top of my list! There was something in the blurb about "public responsibility," and I think that beyond institutional racism, the fact that most people in this country claim a political ideology that denies the existence of any such thing as "public responsibility" is the underlying problem here.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Katy

    VERY interesting and makes you want to save the world. Really enjoyed reading.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jeri

    An updated look into the issues Kozol explored so eloquently. I will probably choose this as a text in my Urban Education course.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Danny

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kurt Ostrow

  8. 5 out of 5

    Danielle

  9. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  10. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

  11. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

  12. 5 out of 5

    Brittany Farrell

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany Thielke Lesmeister

  14. 5 out of 5

    Victor

  15. 4 out of 5

    Megan

  16. 4 out of 5

    Courtney

  17. 4 out of 5

    Holly Bonds

  18. 4 out of 5

    Spencer Hackler

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kate

  20. 4 out of 5

    Simrun Soni

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Donovan

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mark

  23. 5 out of 5

    Torianna

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sarah_novak

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sophia Whitehouse

  26. 5 out of 5

    stephanie

  27. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

  28. 4 out of 5

    Christina

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sara

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Langhammer

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