Fulgham poses a question: “To what extent is the Christian community working to help improve public schools for poor children—regardless of where we choose to send our own children?” She argues that most poor kids go to public schools, and if we care about children, the poor, and justice, we need to be involved in making those schools better. She provides a history of evangelical engagement with and withdrawal from public education, and spotlights churches and faith-based organizations that are successfully partnering with urban schools. The book hopes to inspire Christians to engage with low-income public schools and lays out practical ways to do it.
Rafe Esquith has been teaching fifth grade in a public school in central L.A. for nearly 30 years. Most of his students are poor and just learning English, but by the end of each school year they perform an unabridged Shakespeare play and the rock ’n’ roll songs that they make part of it. The Hobart Shakespeareans (named after the school and the bard) have a mission: “Be nice. Work hard.” They have a motto—“There are no shortcuts”—and other identifying traits: “Hobart Shakespeareans are honest. Hobart Shakespeareans show initiative. Hobart Shakespeareans take responsibility for their actions. Hobart Shakespeareans are aware of time and space.” Written for teachers and full of examples, this book explains Esquith’s classroom creed and shows how everything he teaches ties back to it.
As a philanthropist, movie director M. Night Shyamalan wanted to support effective efforts to close the achievement gap between rich and poor kids. His quest to discover the keys to effective schools forces him (and the data cruncher at his foundation) to analyze the effectiveness of various reform measures before arriving at a list of five—the ability to get rid of the worst teachers, effective leadership, data-based feedback, smaller schools, and more time in school. None of these is sufficient in itself, but together they create a system that works. Shyamalan spends much of the book talking to experts, visiting schools, and analyzing the logical fallacies that make believers out of advocates for various schemes—smaller class size, for example—that are either ineffective or too costly.
Diane Ravitch is a liberal who once supported charter schools and parental choice, yet now is a bare-knuckled defender of public education and teachers unions against what she views as efforts to privatize a public good. Ravitch analyzes years of testing and argues that schools are doing much better than naysayers admit. She criticizes overreliance on high-stakes testing to measure student progress and teacher effectiveness. She lashes out at No Child Left Behind and Race for the Top for pushing charter schools. She saves her real animus for the corporations that are profiting by running charter schools, developing high-stakes tests, and selling technology to schools. She argues that all these companies are feeding at the public trough.
Famous Figures of the Civil War (Figures in Motion, 2013) introduces children to the Civil War through cutout card stock figures that hook together with brads. The book includes figures of Lincoln, Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Frederick Douglass, Clara Barton, Harriet Tubman, U.S. Grant, along with short biographies and lists for further reading. —S.O.
In Interrupted (Zondervan, 2012), Allie, a young woman embittered by caring for her dying mother, comforts herself with music and poetry and resists the friendship of the elderly Christian woman who adopts her. The her friend Sam returns to town, Allie falls in love and gets engaged, and he heads off to war, leaving the two women to wait for his return. Written by 17-year-old first-time writer Rachel Coker, Interrupted shows its young author's grasp of human character. The book lacks polish but rewards readers with believable characters and clean prose. Written for young adults, Interrupted is a satisfying World War II romance with themes of love and the meaning of family interwoven throughout.—Mary Sue Daoud