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Published in Print: October 7, 1998, as Writing To Remember

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Writing To Remember

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Race and Civil Rights

Equal Justice Under Law: An Autobiography, by Constance Baker Motley (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 19 Union Square West, New York, NY 10003; 282 pp., $25 hardcover). This book by Senior Judge Constance Baker Motley of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York is more than a memoir: It is an insider's account of the legal battles of the civil rights movement in education and other realms that sheds light on the United States' past and present racial and gender struggles. The narrative follows Judge Motley, one of 12 children, from her relatively poor beginnings in New Haven, Conn., to her college years at all-black Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., and then at Columbia Law School. The autobiography details the author's early legal work alongside Thurgood Marshall at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and a distinguished career in civil rights litigation that included 10 appearances before the U.S. Supreme Court. Equal Justice Under Law devotes chapters to key court cases that helped desegregate public schools and state universities, including Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. Judge Motley reflects on poignant moments of the civil rights movement--sitting on the speaker's platform with her son during Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech and tense moments in Mississippi with Medgar Evers, for example--and brings these memories to bear upon what is happening to affirmative action programs today. She addresses the Supreme Court's current stance on affirmative action, California's controversial Proposition 209, and a white majority that, in Judge Motley's view, remains largely silent. "We end this century," she writes, "with the realization that racism, a problem we should have resolved with strong and consistent national leadership, will follow us and bewilder us in the next."

The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions, by William G. Bowen and Derek Bok (Princeton University Press, 41 William St., Princeton, NJ 08540; 472 pp., $24.95 hardcover). The Shape of the River addresses one of the most hotly contested social and political issues of recent years--race-sensitive admissions policies in colleges and universities. Authors William G. Bowen, a former president of Princeton University, and Derek Bok, a former president of Harvard University, have at their disposal a massive new database to analyze the undergraduate admissions process and the subsequent experiences of 45,000 students of all races who entered 28 selective colleges. Called College and Beyond, or C&B, the database was compiled by the Mellon Foundation between 1995 and 1997 and follows the lives of those students in college and beyond. "All signs," Messrs. Bowen and Bok write, "suggest that the [race-sensitive-admissions] controversy is moving toward some new authoritative review and resolution. Clearly, the time is now ripe for a careful accounting of how race-sensitive admissions policies have been applied during their 30-year history, and what their consequences have been." In their analysis, the authors borrow a metaphor from Mark Twain to argue that, in evaluating the use of race in selecting students, one must examine "the shape of the river," with college admission being but one crucial bend. Messrs. Bowen and Bok delve further, examining students' college academic records, the interaction between undergraduates of different races, attainment of advanced degrees, work experiences, and the later civic activities of the students included in the C&B database. The Shape of the River also addresses related and ongoing debates such as the predictive value of SAT scores and the role of college grades in predicting future success. The authors acknowledge their former roles as university presidents and their efforts to enroll and educate more diverse student bodies. They conclude that "overall, ... academically selective colleges and universities have been successful in using race-sensitive admissions policies to advance educational goals important to them and societal goals important to everyone."

Into That Good Night, by Ron Rozelle (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 19 Union Square West, New York, NY 10003, 182 pp., $22 hardcover). This first book by Ron Rozelle, a high school English teacher from east Texas, is both a memoir and a tribute to the author's father, Lester, whose own memory was claimed by Alzheimer's disease. Shuttling between the past and the present, Into That Good Night reconstructs not only the life of Ron Rozelle, who grew up in Oakwood, Texas, in the 1950s and '60s, but also that of Lester Rozelle, then the superintendent of the town's "white" school (where he formerly taught) and its "black" school. Ron Rozelle brings his father to life for the reader as a man of quiet strength who publicly supported the U.S. Supreme Court decision that mandated school integration. Ron Rozelle tells readers how his father, who died of a stroke in 1992, guided his schools through the strained process of integration. The author also writes of his own confused discovery of racial inequality and of his decision to become a teacher himself. The Dylan Thomas poem "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night," from which the book takes it title, is printed as an epigraph.

Disabilities

Running on Ritalin: A Physician Reflects on Children, Society, and Performance in a Pill, by Dr. Lawrence H. Diller (Bantam Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036; 386 pp., $25.95 hardcover). Dr. Lawrence H. Diller, a pediatrician, shares some startling statistics on diagnoses of attention deficit disorder, or ADD, and its most commonly prescribed treatment, best known by the brand name Ritalin. Use of the drug, Dr. Diller points out, has increased 700 percent since 1990--and 90 percent of the world's Ritalin is used in the United States. Running on Ritalin addresses the use of the amphetamine-related stimulant in America and how it has grown to what the author considers near-epidemic proportions, especially in schools. Dr. Diller details the medical, psychological, and pharmacological history of the ADD diagnosis and the development and use of Ritalin in treating it. The author also pays close attention to the evolving costs and benefits of both Ritalin and non-Ritalin treatments of ADD, as well as the role that health-maintenance organizations and managed-care companies have played in the increase in Ritalin prescriptions. At the core of Running on Ritalin are questions that confront fundamental values and goals: What does the prevalence of Ritalin say about the long-standing dichotomies of nature and nurture, free will and responsibility? Is ADD a disability that entitles one to special treatment? and Is there still a place for childhood in the performance-driven America of the late 1990s?

Reversals: A Personal Account of Victory Over Dyslexia, by Eileen Simpson (The Noonday Press, 19 Union Square West, New York, NY 10003; 252 pp., $13 paperback). In a firsthand account of what it is like to grow up dyslexic, psychotherapist and writer Eileen Simpson re-creates the frightening world of a seemingly normal child lost within her illiteracy. Her lack of reading skills, Ms. Simpson recalls, exasperated teachers and family to the point where some suspected she was mentally retarded. The author's dyslexia went undiagnosed into adulthood; Ms. Simpson's future husband, the poet John Berryman, finally named her mysterious ailment. The narrative of Reversals is a mix of memoir and nontechnical explanations of dyslexia and current efforts to treat it. This reissued paperback includes an updated introduction and a list of services and support organizations for dyslectics. "As my symptoms improved through the years," Ms. Simpson now writes, "I was less and less troubled by this cerebral anarchy, but there has never been a time when I haven't had to compensate for my disorder."

Youth Issues

Things Get Hectic: Teens Write About the Violence That Surrounds Them, by Youth Communication, edited by Philip Kay, Andrea Estepa, and Al Desetta (Touchstone Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020; 282 pp., $13 original paperback). This anthology is composed of essays and personal narratives by aspiring young urban writers who describe their daily struggle for survival. The roots of teenage violence, as these writers explain, are pervasive: Fear, abuse, poverty, drugs, and sexuality are just a few. The authors reflect upon their personal experiences, exploring their own roles within the culture of violence--often as victims, friends or relatives of victims, and occasionally as violent perpetrators themselves. These diverse selections attempt to make both immediate and greater sense of the violence that, as one writer puts it, "surrounds us everywhere. ... Adrenaline flows faster than questions." The teenage authors of Things Get Hectic belong to Youth Communication, a New York City-based organization founded in 1980 that develops young writers. Featuring an introduction by Geoffrey Canada (the author of Fist Stick Knife Gun), this fourth compilation by Youth Communication arrives at a time when the nation is searching collectively for solutions to violence by young people.

Literacy

Reading Lessons: The Debate Over Literacy, by Gerald Coles (Hill & Wang, 19 Union Square West, New York, NY 10003; 212 pp., $24 hardcover). If literacy is the linchpin of education, then the debate over how best to teach reading and writing cannot afford to be stalled or split into two familiar camps: those who support the traditional phonics approach, and those who favor the newer whole-language method. In Reading Lessons, educational psychiatrist Gerald Coles offers a critical analysis of how these approaches to literacy education fail children. The problem lies not in the method of teaching, he argues, but in educators' attitude toward literacy. To reshape the current debate, the book asks three questions: What does it mean to be literate? How is literacy taught? and How do educators measure their success? Mr. Coles, who also wrote The Learning Mystique, urges readers to set aside arguments over teaching methods and inherent learning capabilities. Such factors as a student's health, emotional well-being, and socioeconomic status, he contends, are more important to learning than the exact method of instruction. This theme is central to Reading Lessons, as Mr. Coles writes: "If the debate over literacy were more about the politics, economics, and power in society and less about the 'best' way to teach literacy, we would better understand how to rear literate children."

School Management

A Time To Learn: The Story of One High School's Remarkable Transformation and the People Who Made It Happen, by George H. Wood (Dutton, 375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014; 230 pp., $24.95 hardcover). In 1992, George H. Wood left his position as a professor of education to become the principal of a struggling high school in rural Stewart, Ohio. A Time To Learn takes readers inside Federal Hocking High School and shows how Mr. Wood, in just three years, helped turn it into one of the top schools in its region. The author discusses his approach to turning around student achievement. He introduced changes that he says had both an immediate and lasting impact on students' learning: The school reduced the student-to-teacher ratio; linked students together with a core group of teachers throughout their high school years; and reduced the number of classes per day from eight to four, giving teachers twice the time with half as many students. In addition to practical advice, Mr. Wood, who also wrote Schools That Work, offers sample planning guides, curriculum outlines, and an annotated list of reform organizations.

Bibliography

Strong Souls Singing: African-American Books for Our Daughters and Our Sisters, edited by Archie Givens (W.W. Norton & Company, 500 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10110; 146 pp., $22 hardcover, $11 paperback); and Spirited Minds: African-American Books for Our Sons and Our Brothers, edited by Archie Givens (W.W. Norton & Company, 500 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10110; 141 pp., $22 hardcover, $11 paperback). This two-book set of illustrated, annotated bibliographies features African-American books for children and young adults. Cataloging more than 200 works of literature, Strong Souls Singing and Spirited Minds includes such writers as James Weldon Johnson, Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou, and August Wilson. Norton published the books in collaboration with the Minneapolis-based Givens Foundation for African-American Literature--the same partnership that produced the Norton Anthology of African-American Literature. Both books are edited by the foundation's director, Archie Givens, and feature introductions by President Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund (Strong Souls Singing), and writer, filmmaker, and photographer Gordon Parks (Spirited Minds). Each volume is divided into chapters according to genre--auto/biographies, fiction, history, drama, and poetry--and includes indices of books by title, author, and reading level.

-- IHSAN K. TAYLOR

Vol. 18, Issue 6, Page 40

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