three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
27-Mar-Apr-2007
By: 
Susan Eaton
user_rating: 
0

American Education on Trial

A-The Children in Room E4The United States Supreme Court may have rejected the doctrine of "separate but equal" in 1954, but racial segregation is alive and well in this country’s inner-city neighborhoods. Susan Eaton distills this nationwide dilemma into two tales of Hartford, Connecticut: the first, a record of her experiences in the third-grade classroom of Lois Luddy, a dedicated teacher at the underfunded Simpson-Waverly Elementary School; the second, a dramatic account of the Sheff v. O’Neill trial, in which local school districts were accused of practicing illegal segregation. Eleven years after the plaintiffs’ victory, the state has yet to implement the required changes. While politicians drag their feet, Eaton notes, it’s the underprivileged students of Hartford who pay the price.
Algonquin. 416 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 156512488X

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"Eaton has created a marvelous ensemble piece, and she makes familiar ground fresh and alive. She refuses to stoop to sentiment or even clean up street language, and thus presents real children—optimistic, resilient and hopeful." Lawrence Goldstone

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"She built the book around this question: ‘Is what politicians call school reform—the contemporary, bipartisan goal of quantifiable standards and better test scores—a just, effective replacement for integrated, equal opportunity classrooms?’ The answers, plural, turned out to be complex, giving the book incredible richness and power." Steve Weinberg

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Eaton is at her best … when she is in the classroom (or in the lunchroom, the library, or on the bus), capturing the quiet determination and creativity of Luddy … and her students. … She has written a book that goes to the heart of who we are as a nation, of what we mean when we ask our children to pledge allegiance to the flag of ‘one nation, indivisible.’" Barbara Belejack

Chicago Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Two contrasting approaches to the crisis in American public education—testing, incentives and awards; and the struggle to break down the segregation that plagues urban schools—serve as the parameters of Susan Eaton’s compelling book. … Eaton provides a vivid account of the unfolding of the case that became Sheff vs. O’Neill, a modern day civil rights drama." Patricia Sullivan

Hartford Courant 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This is a book that combines a journalist’s eye for detail with the detached contextual perspective of a Harvard-trained researcher. … The result is a book that jockeys, sometimes awkwardly, between years-old court arguments, a Hartford classroom of a few years ago and the various viewpoints of lawyers, teachers and school administrators." Rick Green

Critical Summary

Susan Eaton, a former member of the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, has written extensively on the growing problem of segregation in America’s public schools. In The Children of Room E4, she skillfully intertwines the dual threads of her narrative—her vibrant description of an inner-city classroom and her suspenseful account of the lawsuit and its aftermath—into a gripping and forceful argument. Critics observed Eaton’s lack of objectivity but praised the book for its sincerity and depth. As the No Child Left Behind Act expires, "a spate of books on education theory is surely in the offing, but none will be more trenchant, frightening or important than this incursion into the Hartford Conn., school system" (Miami Herald).