Ghetto Schooling: A Political Economy of Urban Education Reform

By Mattai, P. Rudy | The Journal of Negro Education, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

Ghetto Schooling: A Political Economy of Urban Education Reform


Mattai, P. Rudy, The Journal of Negro Education


Ghetto Schooling: A Political Economy of Urban Education Reform, by Jean Anyon. New York: Teacher's College Press, 1997. 217 pp. $18.95, paper.

Emanating from a multiyear, consultative process with a cluster of schools in Newark, New Jersey, this work joins other recent analyses of inner-city education which purport to address the larger issues of educational reform. According to the foreword by William Julius Wilson, Anyon's work attempts to present a positive diversion from most of the work on educational reform, particularly in the public schools, in that she deliberately situates the analyses of urban education within the contexts of poverty and racial isolation. In Anyon's own words, she uses this research to "reveal ways in which poverty and racial isolation have often trivialized efforts in [the] city to teach, learn, and to bring about change" (p. xiv). However, Anyon's work is not merely intended to be an alternative way of looking at educational reform in the inner city. Instead, she proposes that her methodology for doing research there is generalizable and that pivotal to such generalizability is the incorporation of two important factors: (a) an understanding of how innercity schools have come to be what they are, and (b) a strategy to improve the lives and life chances of inner-city residents.

The book is divided into three main parts in addition to an introduction. In part one, which focuses on the effects of race and social class on educational reform, the author goes to some length in demonstrating the importance of these factors in the educational reform process and the futility of engaging in educational reform when they are not taken into account. Part two describes the plans for educational reform in Newark within the local historical context and the wider context of American cities generally. Finally, in part three, Anyon recapitulates some of the main issues raised earlier in the book and offers her vision of urban educational reform.

Anyon's engagement with race and class as important variables in the analysis of educational issues is not that of a neophyte; she is widely published in this area. She is equally aware that use of such variables is not without contention. Nevertheless, she chooses to focus on such issues because, despite their predisposition to being painful, they are necessary forces to be considered. Her analysis extends beyond aspects of poverty and racial isolation and raises issues that point to the lack of cultural synchronization among the many players in the drama of educational reform. For example, she contends:

. . . social distance arising in part from lack of common experience and knowledge of each other in people of difference class and racial backgrounds can impair communication, trust, and joint action between reformers and school personnel, can foster an incompetence that arises in part from this lack of knowledge, and can hamper the implementation of educational improvement projects. (p. 23)

Unfortunately, Anyon does not fully buttress this conclusion with strong supporting materials but attempts to address the issues in an almost apologetic manner. First, she describes the organizational structure of the Newark reform efforts and the principal characters involved at the macrolevel: the board of education. She seems to suggest that more could have been achieved in this majority-Black city particularly because most of the major players at the level of city government and the board of education were African American and Latino. She then ascribes their failure to effect positive changes and bring about the needed reform to the possibility of their displaying a subservient mentality. She falls to discuss the real possibility that the persons visibly in control of such reforms may have been acting out of a perceived need to satisfy those who were actually in control of the project. Indeed, such an explanation seems more plausible than Anyon's social distance argument and is even supported by a White learning disabilities specialist assigned to the research site. …

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