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Great Speaker Anyon on Ghetto Schools

Jean Anyon, the second of the Great Speakers in April, spoke about her book Ghetto Schooling: A Political Economy of Urban Educational Reform (Teachers College Press). Anyon, chair of the Department of Education at the Newark campus of Rutgers University, writes about Newark public schools from an outsider's point of view. "It's an honest book," Anyon said, "that has gotten me into trouble in Newark. I received death threats."

She wrote down everything she saw and heard as she went through the schools. "Everyone knew I was writing a book," she explained. When they read the first draft they were shocked that she took such a dim view of their situation. Anyon said she believes teachers in inner city schools get used to things by being inside, but from the outside it hits you in the face. "That is awful," she added. "They don't even see how abusive they are being."

After witnessing the effects and abuses of schools in despair, Anyon said at first she was distraught and pessimistic. Now she believes there are ways to combat the pervasive problems she found. By uniting local neighborhood groups and organizations when education reform measures are ready to be taken, Anyon said people can improve ghetto schools by improving the neighborhood. She talked about the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), which goes into low- and moderate-income communities to "fix what's broken." As they begin to work with neighborhood residents, they teach people to do things for themselves. "They teach them how to confront City Hall and collaborate with City Hall," Anyon explained.

Her research indicated that when parents are willing to fight to get the services they need to make their communities better, teachers have more respect for both students and parents. Everyone working together to make the system work creates more motivation not to let it fail.

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