Monday, May 05, 2008

Books books books

If you have not read Freakonomics, then I really can't keep talking to you. It is so interesting and many of the tidbits in the book have stuck with me. I keep trying to get one of my students (any student) to read it -- I've offered a ton of extra credit. But no dice. No one has taken me up on this offer. Hell, I'd even pass a kid if he/she read the book and could discuss it with me. I'll keep trying.

In Freakonomics, there is a vignette about a grad student who is essentially kidnapped by the Black Kings in a dirty stairwell in the Robert Taylor Homes. The story is amazing, and that grad student -- who is now a professor at Columbia University, has written a book about his experiences researching the Black Kings.

The book is Gang Leader for a Day, by Sudhir Venkatesh. I just finished reading it, and it was super fantastic. Being a teacher in the ghetto, I really enjoy reading about urban poverty, since I see the effects of such poverty every day at work. Being white and Southern and relatively clueless, any insight I can gain to help me understand where my kids are coming from is valuable.

This book provides a lot of insight. It helps illustrate how the gangs work, the roles the gangs play within the society (specifically in the projects), and the level of complicity of the cops in perpetuating these roles.

Fascinating. And depressing, because it seems pretty clear that we are nowhere near a solution. Not that there are any politicians who seem to be looking for a solution to poverty.

I am realizing, the more time I spend teaching in the ghetto, that I should truly be amazed that any students bother coming to school. Unfortunately, our schools are doing nothing to give my kids a viable alternative to hustling. And the corruption is so endemic -- why should they know any better?

I sort of digressed from the book review. I don't want to give too much away. You really should read it. I think it would be eye-opening and amazing even if you aren't a school teacher in the ghetto. Arkansas friends, you would enjoy it, too!

The last book I want to mention is called The Echo from Dealey Plaza, by Abraham Bolden. It's about the first African American to serve on the White House Secret Service detail. Bolden was appointed by John F. Kennedy, who worked hard to staff his White House with women and minorities.

I found out about this book via Abraham Bolden, Jr, who is the technology coordinator at my school. He just happened to mention that his father had written this book. While I would not have heard about it otherwise, I'm really glad he told me about it -- it's so good. I'm only six chapters in, and I haven't really wanted to put it down.

The level of racism Bolden was subjected to is shocking. And after JFK's assassination, things went downhill. I won't tell you more than that -- you should get this book. It reveals a chapter in history that deserves to be remembered, and Mr. Bolden deserves a presidential pardon.

I am going to try to get my kids to read at least some excerpts. They have no idea how much worse things were in the 1960s. I realize we still have a long way to go, but things are definitely better.

OK, those are my recommendations. If you want me to continue to respect your opinions and ideas and value your intellect, you are going to have to read these books and then discuss them with me!!! (You don't have to read them, but it's for your own good. Why would you deny yourself these opportunities??)


Alannah said...

I almost said, "I promise to have read these by the next time I see you" but then I remembered that's NEXT WEEK....and ain't no way....

But they look fascinating!

I'm nearly finished with The Braindead Megaphone then it's two issues of Harper's and one of The New Yorker and THEN it's these two books you mentioned.

A W. Bolden said...

Thank you for mentioning the book - it was released on March 4 2008 (same day as TX an OH Dem primary) without much fanfare. Now - 5 years later the book seems to be losing some of its relevance. People want to attend movies for sex, entertainment, scandal, etc - not necessarily to learn historical events. So we have experienced.