Book Review: These Kids

Oct 3, 2013 by

These KidsAuthor: Kysa Nygreen

Publisher : The University of Chicago Press

Reviewed by: Caroline Knudson, Eastern New Mexico University, Portales, New Mexico

The public education system in America has long adhered to the strongly held belief that every individual has an equal opportunity to achieve. “These Kids” author Kysa Nygreen exposes the truth about equality in education by critically examining the role it plays in producing a hierarchy of achievement that sorts students into unequal labor markets, thus perpetuating the socioeconomic disparities that exist in society. Nygreen labels this, “the paradox of getting ahead” and investigates what purpose education has when it covertly seeks to obstruct student chances at upward mobility, namely students of poverty and color. Through personal testimonies of students from a “last chance” high school, Nygreen tells the story of students who have been marginalized by society and left with little chance to escape poverty and crime.

In an effort to expose these limitations of educational success, Nygreen details her time spent collaborating on an active research project with former students from an alternative high school. The team, the Participatory Action Research Team for Youth (PARTY), consists of youth ages 16 to 20 that were involuntarily placed at Jackson High for falling significantly behind in credits toward graduating.

As the PARTY’s research project continued, Nygreen exposed the participants to the disparities in education that directly affected their social standing, propelling the participants into moments of self-discovery, bitterness, anger, and ultimately the will to seek justice. The participants, along with Nygreen, decided that they would transform their research into a class to be taught at their former high school, Jackson High.

Through descriptive dialogue, readers get a first glance into the lives of the participants, many of whom are still struggling with minimum wage jobs, failed community college courses, and homelessness. Nygreen also provides insight into her own thoughts and feelings as she reflects on her time spent with the participants. She comes to the conclusion that although she emphasized every participant’s equal role in the project, her mere presence as a white, doctoral candidate, systematically reinforced her position as leader during the project.

Written for college age students, or those interested in critical social justice pedagogy, this book provides astounding and relevant insight into the hidden flaws of the American education system. Readers gain a new perspective on the negative impact our society’s educational discourse has on the members of society who are in most need of educational equality.

Nygreen, K. (2013). Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press.

ISBN: 9780226031422. Paper: $25.00

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