Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cross-X By Joe Miller - Book Review

By Joe Miller
Farrar, Straus and Giroux New York 2006
Striving for an Education Challenge

I picked up this book because of the interesting cartoon cover. I read it because it was about education.

In 2001, Joe Miller, a journalist in Kansas City, Misouri, was invited to attend the Kansas City Central High School by the student body president, because the school board had fired the superintendent and the school was now officially declared to be "academically deficient".

Miller was introduced to Jane Rhinehart, a debate teacher and coach, who had coached several KCCHS debate teams to victory against other more academically qualified high schools. The trophies showed proof of this.

But debate was not recognized by the district as a worthy activity. Unlike Football, Baseball and basketball which got all the money and no travel restrictions, the debate team was constantly being restricted to how far it could travel and how often, to attend competitions.

Listening to Rhinehart's pained accounts of this conflict, I began to see the sketchy outlines of what I came to Central hoping to find. Joe Miller

Joe Miller spent the year of 2002-2003 with the KCCHS debate team, and followed them through an entire year of debating practice and competitions. He tried to keep himself apart from the team, but eventually became personally involved as an assistant debate coach. Hw watched Jane Rhinehart battle against red tape and bureacracy from the school staff, the school board, and the Missouri State Activities Association.

The MSHSAA (Missouri State High School Activities Association) controls all extra-curriculum activites in the state. For debate, the rule was no more than 10 tournaments per year, and no more than 250 miles travel to get to the tournaments. This effectively ruled out all West coast and East coast tournaments.

This review may be hard to read, because I am going to be blunt. This book is about inherent racism in American schools - where some white teachers (in general and in 2003) do not teach the black kids because they think the black kids are "deficient" and incapable of learning.

Debate is an elite sport. The majority of debaters are white - there are very few minorities - not just Blacks, but Hispanic and Asians as well. The majority of schools that participate in debate are upper class majority white schools, and a majority of these are private schools.

This is a rap by one of the Kansas City Central HS debaters.
Geoffrey Stone, 2003, page 449 set to Dr Dre.

My school is almost 100 percent black
Just seventeen out of 3000 kids tested proficient in Math
It's the same in English, Social Studies and Science
"academic deficient" is how we're defined
The only foreign language we get offered is Spanish
French or Russian, Teacher said I wouldnt understand it

Walk in my school is like going to jail
Metal detectors guard our academic hell
Early last month there was a fight at my school
Two girls hitting each other trying to be cool.
Has your school ever had a fight?
Maybe some teachers break it up, right?
Not in my school.
The state beleives all blacks are fools
At central they treated us like rioters
The called in twelve cop cars and a helicopter

High School debate is an activity skewed toward the elite. In order to succeed, the kids need thousands of dollars to attend [debate] camp. They must learn to argue un a way that's utterly foreign [to them, arguing] at breakneck speed, using enough scholarly material to overwhelm a PhD candidate. And even then, there was only so far they can go. (Page 455)

Most of this book is about how the Black kids forced a change in debate by introducing hip-hop music and rap to the debates. The white teams promptly claimed it was not within the rules, but the blacks kept winning their rounds and began winning tournaments. But since hop hop and rap are not encouraged in the college debate scene, the kids cannot continue these new ways if they wanted to go on and debate in college.

1 comment:

heather (errantdreams) said...

Sounds like a fascinating, if somewhat depressing, book.