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The Trouble with Black Boys: And Other Reflections on Race, Equity, and the Future of Public Education

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For many years to come, race will continue to be a source of controversy and conflict in American society. For many of us it will continue to shape where we live, pray, go to school, and socialize. We cannot simply wish away the existence of race or racism, but we can take steps to lessen the ways in which the categories trap and confine us. Educators, who should be commit For many years to come, race will continue to be a source of controversy and conflict in American society. For many of us it will continue to shape where we live, pray, go to school, and socialize. We cannot simply wish away the existence of race or racism, but we can take steps to lessen the ways in which the categories trap and confine us. Educators, who should be committed to helping young people realize their intellectual potential as they make their way toward adulthood, have a responsibility to help them find ways to expand identities related to race so that they can experience the fullest possibility of all that they may become. In this brutally honest--yet ultimately hopeful-- book Pedro Noguera examines the many facets of race in schools and society and reveals what it will take to improve outcomes for all students. From achievement gaps to immigration, Noguera offers a rich and compelling picture of a complex issue that affects all of us.


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For many years to come, race will continue to be a source of controversy and conflict in American society. For many of us it will continue to shape where we live, pray, go to school, and socialize. We cannot simply wish away the existence of race or racism, but we can take steps to lessen the ways in which the categories trap and confine us. Educators, who should be commit For many years to come, race will continue to be a source of controversy and conflict in American society. For many of us it will continue to shape where we live, pray, go to school, and socialize. We cannot simply wish away the existence of race or racism, but we can take steps to lessen the ways in which the categories trap and confine us. Educators, who should be committed to helping young people realize their intellectual potential as they make their way toward adulthood, have a responsibility to help them find ways to expand identities related to race so that they can experience the fullest possibility of all that they may become. In this brutally honest--yet ultimately hopeful-- book Pedro Noguera examines the many facets of race in schools and society and reveals what it will take to improve outcomes for all students. From achievement gaps to immigration, Noguera offers a rich and compelling picture of a complex issue that affects all of us.

30 review for The Trouble with Black Boys: And Other Reflections on Race, Equity, and the Future of Public Education

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    Clearly written by someone who has not taught in a K-12 classroom, this book gave vague policy recommendations. Reading it with a school book group, we were left unclear about what we, as classroom educators, can do. I appreciate that he addresses structural racism, which I think is much needed, but overall I wasn't impressed with any of his ideas, probably because they were not clear enough to be meaningful. Clearly written by someone who has not taught in a K-12 classroom, this book gave vague policy recommendations. Reading it with a school book group, we were left unclear about what we, as classroom educators, can do. I appreciate that he addresses structural racism, which I think is much needed, but overall I wasn't impressed with any of his ideas, probably because they were not clear enough to be meaningful.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Cara

    The book repeats the same anecdote in some places, which suggests some poor editing.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Esther | lifebyesther

    This was full of useful knowledge, disturbing statistics, and insightful conclusions. However, it was all information I had already learned in grad school. As a result, I kept getting bored and it took me 12 days to finish this. Also, the author doesn't really break up the analyses, so it's really dense. This was full of useful knowledge, disturbing statistics, and insightful conclusions. However, it was all information I had already learned in grad school. As a result, I kept getting bored and it took me 12 days to finish this. Also, the author doesn't really break up the analyses, so it's really dense.

  4. 4 out of 5

    WheeldonHS

    I could complain about the editing or the way certain examples and anecdotes were reused but that would make me just another typical white person wilfully overlooking the real message in order to focus on the least important aspect in order to redirect focus from what actually matters. 🤷🏻

  5. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    I was hoping for something slightly more analytical. The book was very repetitive at times.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    I will need to refer back to this book for the Prison Yoga Project. So much important information. Necessary for all teachers, including teachers in Alternative and Juvenille Detention classrooms.

  7. 4 out of 5

    SJ Loria

    What does it mean to be a man? And how can we create a system for men to succeed? Recently I went to a talk by this author and at one point he said, “we need to raise this debate, provocatively.” What I enjoy about this author is he is raising this question, provocatively. And the question needs to be raised. Because whichever way you slice it, minority male students are the lowest performing demographic group in our county. The report card school earn for educating boys of color is an F. Period. What does it mean to be a man? And how can we create a system for men to succeed? Recently I went to a talk by this author and at one point he said, “we need to raise this debate, provocatively.” What I enjoy about this author is he is raising this question, provocatively. And the question needs to be raised. Because whichever way you slice it, minority male students are the lowest performing demographic group in our county. The report card school earn for educating boys of color is an F. Period. Recently I’ve found myself becoming more interested in this conversation. Most educators ignore the question, probably because they have no clue how to relate to these kids and for themselves school wasn’t a struggle, but there are some great groups and some interesting thinkers that are raising this question. Such groups are pushing schools to do better while also engaging on a macro question of, what does it mean to be a man in 21st Century America? Tinkering this idea of what the end product should be in terms of what kind of men we want to create. Another point I enjoyed from his talk was when he pointed out “we never ask why we are educating. We need to frame that concept clearly in order to teach. We don’t ask why of schools.” Nor do we ask what kind of men exactly are we trying to create? I’m going to use a backwards-planning lens for a moment. If we want students to get 4s and 5s on an AP, we study the exam and backwards plan the course to cover those concepts. We do this with the content, but, do we backwards plan the type of learns we hope to create within a school? What kinds of community members we hope to create? Most schools don’t ask this question, thereby passing student from grade to grade and train them to exist (though not thrive) within the school bubble. That’s underutilized human talent, we can look beyond school and ask the question of what kind of men we want to have. A school can say we want critical thinkers, vibrant members of the community, leaders, real men (and women, but since I am male, work in Special Education, work with a majority minority male students and since we are discussing the failure of the school system as a whole this is most applicable to minority male students, me entiendes?). There are far fewer schools that do this long term thinking with the character of their students, in particular their minority male students, but it too is a question that can be raised. There are a couple of traps for research in this field. One is the entirely destructive approach, 100 pages of criticism with little ideas for improvement. Easy and obvious since the problem is so glaring. Two is the, we got this trap, where it says here is the solution, do it this way. This author avoids both of those traps, and settles into a successful strategy which I’ll call “collaborative and honest problem solving.” He engages the young men in question and asks them to be part of the solution. I gathered this from his speech in the prison example, where he asks imprisoned men if they are part of the conspiracy to keep them behind bars. He asks for their support and cooperation, he then says we need to build a sense of responsibility for the destiny of these males in them so they share the task. All that sounds remarkably simple idea, but as an educator I can’t tell you how many behavior conferences I’ve been in where it’s a talk to the student, not a talk with the student. They can and will share a sense of responsibility if spoken to as young men and respected enough to become a part of the conversation. It shouldn’t be a radical statement but saying “I believe we must engage Black men and boys in debates about personal responsibility, preferably before they enter prison” is actually a departure from the status quo, and I agree! A good thinker gets the wheels in your head turning. And that’s what Noreiga does. I’ve been thinking and I’m eager to share some thoughts with him. I feel inspired coming out of an education conference, odd. There are questions here that are worth exploring. So much talent waiting to be built upon, good to see other thinkers who want to play to the strengths of the students the school system has failed and ready for a new approach. Vamonos compadres, somos el futuro, y tenemos que mejorar.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Janel

    There is a lot of good, insightful writing in here. Unfortunately, much of this writing is repeated several times through out the book. I don't have a lot of spare time as it is; I do not need to read the same point five times for it to sink in! Other than that, I greatly enjoyed this book. It lived up to its subtitle -- "Reflections on Race, etc..." as it delivered reflections and analysis, not pragmatic solutions. If you are expecting that--solutions-- while reading this, you are bound to be d There is a lot of good, insightful writing in here. Unfortunately, much of this writing is repeated several times through out the book. I don't have a lot of spare time as it is; I do not need to read the same point five times for it to sink in! Other than that, I greatly enjoyed this book. It lived up to its subtitle -- "Reflections on Race, etc..." as it delivered reflections and analysis, not pragmatic solutions. If you are expecting that--solutions-- while reading this, you are bound to be disappointed. Noguera delivers on discourse, though. I found the ideas about motivation to be particularly enlightening. Recently we have been privy to much research denigrating "motivation," particularly the self-esteem variety. While I agree that many families and teachers over compliment children, I do not think that this idea outweighs all arguments regarding student motivation. I absolutely agree with Noguera (paraphrasing here) that seeing someone/several people from your own background (whatever that may be) succeed is key to student belief and motivation. If all you are surrounded with is images of a different path, be it drugs, low wage employment, early parenthood, or something similar, then how can you truly envision yourself achieving something different? Working in an urban school, I now believe that it is even more important to bring employees of the same race/ethnicity/culture of students at school into the school work force and believe that more outreach needs to be done if we are to truly give students the tools they need to see themselves as college-bound and successful.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    Notes to self: I read Noguera’s City Schools and the American Dream, and while I was impressed with his mission, intelligence, and passion, his ideologically-driven advocacy interferes with his vision of the holistic problem. This is a common and understandable problem, but one that afflicts “advocates” much more seriously than “academics”. Still, the problem is one I’ll be confronting in my teaching career, so reading what such a thoughtful person has concluded is still a priority. On a related n Notes to self: I read Noguera’s City Schools and the American Dream, and while I was impressed with his mission, intelligence, and passion, his ideologically-driven advocacy interferes with his vision of the holistic problem. This is a common and understandable problem, but one that afflicts “advocates” much more seriously than “academics”. Still, the problem is one I’ll be confronting in my teaching career, so reading what such a thoughtful person has concluded is still a priority. On a related note, the [mediocre] textbook in my Adolescence development course did have this apt idea (p.269):Usually, selecting a negative identity represents an attempt to forge some sense of self-definition in an environment that has made it difficult to establish an acceptable identity. This appears to be especially likely when, after repeatedly trying and failing to receive positive recognition from those who are important in their lives, adolescents turn to a different, perhaps more successful, route to being noticed — adopting a negative identity.Relevant to the broad socioeconomic opportunities available to black men as well as the the more intimate environment of black boys. Unfortunately, neither that passage nor the section it was within was cited, so this text will be part of my hunt for further examination of this idea.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Teachers4socialjustice Book

    Some questions that came out of our bookclub: 1. How does identity construction affect school experience? 2. Why do schools have to ‘go it alone’ to change their path despite the effects of other social institutions? 3. What is the role of parents and the community in schools? 4. How are schools contributing to their own deconstruction and struggle? 5. How do you serve all of your parents’ needs? 6. What are your personal connections to the book? 7. Why does Noguera not offer more concrete solutions? 8. Some questions that came out of our bookclub: 1. How does identity construction affect school experience? 2. Why do schools have to ‘go it alone’ to change their path despite the effects of other social institutions? 3. What is the role of parents and the community in schools? 4. How are schools contributing to their own deconstruction and struggle? 5. How do you serve all of your parents’ needs? 6. What are your personal connections to the book? 7. Why does Noguera not offer more concrete solutions? 8. Who has social capital? Which parents have social capital? Which don’t? How do they develop it? 9. What role should parents play in making executive decisions at a school site? 10. What is the effect of having churches become involved in education? 11. Discuss community accountability vs. systemic accountability vs. individual accountability. 12. Is it enough just to have individual teachers care? 13. What is the role of principals at a school? How do they set the tone? 14. What are the solutions for urban schools? 15. Look at p. 168. What is Noguera saying about failure? 16. What are the pros and cons of charter schools? 17. Is will enough to create change in public schools?

  11. 4 out of 5

    Chalida

    It's the new T4SJ book for book club. So far, so good. Loved the beginning and 250 pages in, I was done with essays and craved going back to fiction. This book comprises of several essays probably all published separately and thus there is a lot of repetition, which is annoying. But I was glad I read this. Noguera is very articulate and confirms what I already believe. He also has the research to back it up. He has an interesting section about the history of how schools were set up to sort student It's the new T4SJ book for book club. So far, so good. Loved the beginning and 250 pages in, I was done with essays and craved going back to fiction. This book comprises of several essays probably all published separately and thus there is a lot of repetition, which is annoying. But I was glad I read this. Noguera is very articulate and confirms what I already believe. He also has the research to back it up. He has an interesting section about the history of how schools were set up to sort students and how we still rely on that system. Tonight's discussion with book club talked a lot about the idea of social capital. Who has it? Who doesn't? Schools cater to those who do, not their guaranteed clientele. I wanted more answers and solutions. He says real change can't happen in schools until changes happen systematically everywhere else, but he also focuses on the power of the individual. I was hoping for more concrete solutions, but alas, the solutions are as complex as I thought they were. No hidden secrets out there. This book did make me feel good about the direction my school is going.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Gloria

    I'm not finished but I know I'm going to like it. This week I had the honor of hearing the author speak. The stories he shared about his days as a teacher left me hungry for more of his insight. I wonder if my instructors shared with him my struggles this week. He said he tells his audience what they need to hear. Everything he talked about was what I needed to hear. It validated my toughness as a teacher and that I was acting in the best interests of my students. Update: I never got through the I'm not finished but I know I'm going to like it. This week I had the honor of hearing the author speak. The stories he shared about his days as a teacher left me hungry for more of his insight. I wonder if my instructors shared with him my struggles this week. He said he tells his audience what they need to hear. Everything he talked about was what I needed to hear. It validated my toughness as a teacher and that I was acting in the best interests of my students. Update: I never got through the whole book!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Smith

    Noguera presents arguments that I am already familiar with such as the stark difference between the percentage of Black men in prison versus the percentage of Black men in the overall US population. I just picked up the book today so I am looking forward to reading more on his recommendations for educators with respect to working with Black and Latino children. There is one quote I am already stealing from Noguera..."There must be a complete interrogation of the thinking that has allowed such pr Noguera presents arguments that I am already familiar with such as the stark difference between the percentage of Black men in prison versus the percentage of Black men in the overall US population. I just picked up the book today so I am looking forward to reading more on his recommendations for educators with respect to working with Black and Latino children. There is one quote I am already stealing from Noguera..."There must be a complete interrogation of the thinking that has allowed such practices to operate without challenge..." That quote alone has got me hooked!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lucius

    There is so much here for a teacher or parent to contemplate. Noguera is one of the handful of people that I would wish could come and spend time at the school that I work at. If some of the teachers could actually internalize what is being said here, there would be some drastic changes made for the better in our public education system.The essays in this book extend beyond the classroom and delve into how issues in public schools mirror those that society is confronting (or avoiding.)

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lorenza

    I LOVED this book. Noguera really helps understand not only why there are disadvantages in our public education system but what we can do to help. He gives real life examples of what is wrong and what to do about it. This should be a required book for anyone teaching children. Not only those teaching in disadvantaged schools but those in "privileged" schools as well. Everything is NOT equal, every child learns differently or has different backgrounds but every child deserves a chance. I LOVED this book. Noguera really helps understand not only why there are disadvantages in our public education system but what we can do to help. He gives real life examples of what is wrong and what to do about it. This should be a required book for anyone teaching children. Not only those teaching in disadvantaged schools but those in "privileged" schools as well. Everything is NOT equal, every child learns differently or has different backgrounds but every child deserves a chance.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mollie

    This is multi-faceted look at race and racism in schools. I was especially interested in the interactions described by the author because they take place primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area, near where I live. I found the book to be hopeful because clearly exploring the challenges also illuminated solutions.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sarah A

    Really wonderful education policy read. Goes very in depth about different issues regarding education of students of color and/or students living in poverty. Very academic and well-researched. Since it is a collection of Noguera's writings, illustrations can be repetitive at times, but he comes to very well-reasoned conclusions. Must read if you teach in an inner city school. Really wonderful education policy read. Goes very in depth about different issues regarding education of students of color and/or students living in poverty. Very academic and well-researched. Since it is a collection of Noguera's writings, illustrations can be repetitive at times, but he comes to very well-reasoned conclusions. Must read if you teach in an inner city school.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Monica

    Such an interesting and provocative book written with the depth of theory and research in language and narrative style that is accessible to everyone. I particularly love that he talks about his own experiences as a parent with an adolescent son! A must read for all concerned with the achievement gap!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    This is a thought-provoking book that anyone interested in education should read - parents, teachers, administrators, policy makers, etc. I appreciated Noguera's comparison of discipline in US education to how we treat inmates, and he showed ways in which teachers can help improve education in a meaningful way. This is a thought-provoking book that anyone interested in education should read - parents, teachers, administrators, policy makers, etc. I appreciated Noguera's comparison of discipline in US education to how we treat inmates, and he showed ways in which teachers can help improve education in a meaningful way.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Justine Philyaw

    I had high expectations of Noguera who is often hailed as the patron saint of urban education. He offers unique insight as a parent, teacher, school board member, and academic, but this book falls short in a number of ways. For starters, it is poorly edited. Noguera offers compelling statistics and a few practical suggestions, but the book mostly left me with more questions than answers.

  21. 4 out of 5

    John

    A thought provoking discussion about the minority achievement gap, what causes it, and what we can do about it. While I agreed with many ideas, and was challenged by others, I would recommend this book to anyone who is concerned about education and civil rights.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    So far so good, I saw him speak at the Asia Society's Putting the World Into World-Class Education Conference. Noguera was an engaging speaker, but we'll see about the book... but it's pretty good so far. So far so good, I saw him speak at the Asia Society's Putting the World Into World-Class Education Conference. Noguera was an engaging speaker, but we'll see about the book... but it's pretty good so far.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Christy

    I can't rate this book like I would a novel. This is a book that we are using at work to initiate dialog and inspire us in our journey as we tackle racial disproportionality in student discipline. Lots of good information and talking points. I can't rate this book like I would a novel. This is a book that we are using at work to initiate dialog and inspire us in our journey as we tackle racial disproportionality in student discipline. Lots of good information and talking points.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Allison

    An interesting look at some of the many factors that cause students of color, especially males, to struggle in school. Would have liked to have seen more concrete suggestions for how educators can work to alleviate these problems.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rodney

    This is a good read that frames many of the issues confronting young Black and Latino boys. Noguera offers a few solutions, none of which are revolutionary (as he readily admits). I was most impressed with how he framed the power dynamic in schools regarding behavior and discipline.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nina Teacher Frye

    Although this book has had a significant impact on social justice and systemic racism within our educational system, it could stand to be updated to reflect more current research. The author should revise to incorporate more concrete details for including parents in school culture.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    Although the author remained hopeful, it is hard not to see the systemic shortcomings effect the lives of so many of my juvenile clients making it even more difficult for them to flourish. And I'm left wondering how to walk through these dynamics with my sons. Although the author remained hopeful, it is hard not to see the systemic shortcomings effect the lives of so many of my juvenile clients making it even more difficult for them to flourish. And I'm left wondering how to walk through these dynamics with my sons.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ferentz

    so far so good. the writing is incredibly accessible and Noguera inserts rich anecdotes alongside his analysis.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    Good discussion starter. But Noguera provides no solutions to the problems he describes.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ms.

    So far I have learned that woman and girls are outpacing males in education.

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