What I’ve Been Reading



Essentially, in the order in which I’ve been reading, with my most recent reading first.

Browse if you please.

Perlstein, L. (2007). Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade. New York: Henry Holt.

Perlstein spends a year in a school in Tyler Heights elementary school, a school lauded as model of reform as its low-income students score exceptionally well on their annual standardized tests. Beautifully written, compelling plotted as we await release of the test scores at the end of Perlstein’s year (was that first year a fluke?), and chillingly clear-eyed about the myriad ways in which these children are being mis-educated in the name of demonstrating “Adequate Yearly Progress” required under NCLB, the book raises disturbing questions about the toll that high-stakes testing is taking on children and their teachers.

Bagaent, J.  (2007). Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War. New York: Crown Publishers.

Thirty years after leaving his small town, working-class roots in Virginia for college and life as a middle-class journalist, Bagaent moves back home and writes of  the political, economic, and social decline of his home town in a changing economy.  Arguing that liberal politicians have long ago lost touch with the working class, Bagaent writes of neighbors and family members in language that is never sentimental but, I found, sometimes veers into condescension, even as he speaks of “we” as he writes of people dulled by talk radio and rampant consumerism.

Frank, R.H. (2007). Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Frank, an economist, argues that rising inequality harms the middle class in psychic and in tangible ways, in part by raising the bar for the point at which people feel relative deprivation, in part because the ability of the few to spend a great deal of money (to outbid others for limited number of homes in the best school districts, to buy huge and heavy cars that place the rest of us at risk on the road) creates real consequences for others. Very readable, very compelling.

Sacks, P. (2007). Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education. Berkeley: University of California Press.

I wish that I had written this book. In a single dense, but supremely readable volume Sacks skillfully juxtaposes case studies of real kids and comprehensive data on the growing class divides in education — particularly in access to higher education. We reviews all of the relevant literature, he has excellent contacts inside and outside of “they system” who spoke candidly to him, and he’s done his research. In the end? Sacks concludes that social class background matters more than ever in shaping educational trajectories, exactly at the historical moment the educational credentials matter more than ever in attaining living wage jobs

His chapter on affirmative action in undergraduate admissions is a must- read.

Foster, G.A. (2005). Class Passing: Social Mobility in Film and Popular Culture. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

From Britney Spears to Queer Eye for the Sraight Guy to films of the 30’s and 40’s, Foster analyzes the stigma attached to attempts at class passing. Good analysis if gender and the burdens of class passing.

Furman, F.K., Kelly, E.A. and Nelson, L.W. (2005). Telling our Lives: Conversations on Solidarity and Difference. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield.

The three authors have been meeting together for years, telling stories about their working-class backgrounds and probing the depths of their differences across race, sexuality, spirituality, and geography. The chapters on K-12 and college education are particularly compelling.

Scott, Alan and Freeman-Moir, John (Eds). (2007). The Lost Dream of Equality: Critical Essays on Education and Social Class. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers

A collection of essays on schooling, mobility, and social class at the beginning of the 21st Century. Includes work by Diane Reay, Stanley Aronowitz, Michael Apple, Peter McLaren and co-authors, with perspectives from New Zealand, South Africa, the U.S. ,England, and Canada.

Jones, Stephanie (2006). Girls, Social Class, and Literacy: What Teachers Can Do to Make a Difference. Heinemann.

This is an excellent book. It’s written at a sophisticated conceptual level, yet is very accessible to teachers. Stephanie writes of her own biography as a working-class child, of her impressive work in a literacy program for young girls, and of class as a theoretical construct.

Sayer, A. (2005). The Moral Significance of Class. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sayer writes that class not only affects our material wealth but also our access to “things, relationships and practices which we have reason to value, included the esteem or respect of others and hence our sense of self-worth.”. A densely referenced book, Sayer offers interesting analysis of class within current discussions of “identity politics”.

Dolby, N. and Dimitriadis, G. (with Willis, P. ) (2004). Learning to Labor in New Times. New York: Routledge Farmer.

A provocative collection of essays exploring the education of working class youth in a new global economy in which what it means to be “working class” is shifting rapidly. I particularly was challenged by Paul Willis’s writing about his work on Learning to Labor, his response to both critics and fans of his work, and his analysis of the newer and deeper challenges of creating schools for marginalized youth.

Ehrenreich, Barbara. (2005). Bait and Switch The futile pursuit of the American Dream. New York: Owl Books.

Another “undercover” report from Ehrenreich, in which this time, she poses as a well-credentialed middle-class person seeking work in the new labor markets of corporate America. Some informative references to analyses of the shifting employment landscape. Ehrenreish suggests that even “successful” students in school who aspire to secure, middle-class employment will be facing new obstacles as employers depend more upon contract workers, part-time employees, and outsourcing.

Moss, Kirby. (2003). The color of class: Poor whites and the paradox of privilege. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

As a privileged African American, Moss conducts an ethnography of poor urban white youth. His book explores race, class, and privilege from distinctive perspectives.

Golden, D. (2006). The price of admission: How America’s ruling class buys its way into elite colleges– and who gets left outside the gates. New York: Crown Books.

Written by a Wall Street Journal reporter, this book documents what we probably already know: when it comes to college admissions, wealth matters a great deal.