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Our Schools Suck

Students Talk Back to a Segregated Nation on the Failures of Urban Education

Gaston Alonso, Noel Anderson, Celina Su, Jeanne Theoharis,

Publication Year: 2009

"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.

Published by: NYU Press


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Front Matter

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pp. vii-x

Over the years, my students at the University of California at Berkeley and at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York have provided me with daily inspiring reminders of young people’s thirst for new knowledge. These reminders have shaped the commitment to a universal quality public education voiced in these pages. My special ...

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pp. 1-30

In 2003, Jorman Nu

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1. Culture Trap: Talking about Young People of Color and Their Education

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pp. 31-68

During the spring of 2006, Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson took to the pages of the New York Times to 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 ...

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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

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pp. 69-112

A hailstorm hit South Central today, the national news reported. Hail in November in South L.A., a place that exists in the popular imagination as the stifling hot setting for two riots, gang violence, drive-by shootings, and West Coast hip-hop. Broadcast across the country, there was little mention that the weather anomaly had left tens of thousands of African ...

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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

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pp. 113-142

One afternoon as I sit on a crowded subway car en route to the campus of Eastern University, my fieldwork site,1 the chatter of passengers is suddenly drowned by the amplified voices of two men. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are here to entertain you. If you enjoy our performance, we ask that you give what you can. It would be greatly appreciated.” Two ...

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4. “Where Youth Have an Actual Voice”: Teenagers as Empowered Stakeholders in School Reform

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pp. 143-176

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. ...

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pp. 177-214

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 ...

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Methodological Appendix: Listening to Young People

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pp. 215-232

In the introduction to this volume, Celina Su recounts how at a 2006 meeting of the New York City Department of Education a young woman affiliated with the Urban Youth Collaborative implored the gathered officials: “Please. You keep staring at your piece of paper and referring to questionable ‘data.’ Please look up and listen to us. We’re sitting in ...


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pp. 233-274


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pp. 275-285

About the Authors

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pp. 287-287

E-ISBN-13: 9780814707760
E-ISBN-10: 0814707769
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814783078
Print-ISBN-10: 0814783074

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 429904707
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Our Schools Suck

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • De facto school segregation -- United States.
  • Minority teenagers -- Education -- United States.
  • Minority teenagers -- United States -- Attitudes.
  • Education, Urban -- United States.
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