“Provocative and personally searching” -San Francisco Chronicle
A Shelf Awareness Best Books of 2021
One mother’s story of enrolling her daughter in a local public school, and the surprising, necessary lessons she learned with her neighbors.
From the time Courtney E. Martin strapped her daughter, Maya, to her chest for long walks, she was curious about Emerson Elementary, a public school down the street from her Oakland home. She learned that White families in their gentrifying neighborhood largely avoided the majority-Black, poorly-rated school. As she began asking why, a journey of a thousand moral miles began.
Learning in Public is the story, not just Courtney’s journey, but a whole country’s. Many of us are newly awakened to the continuing racial injustice all around us, but unsure of how to go beyond hashtags and yard signs to be a part of transforming the country. Courtney discovers that her public school, the foundation of our fragile democracy, is a powerful place to dig deeper.
Courtney E. Martin examines her own fears, assumptions, and conversations with other moms and dads as they navigate school choice. A vivid portrait of integration’s virtues and complexities, and yes, the palpable joy of trying to live differently in a country re-making itself. Learning in Public might also set your family’s life on a different course forever.
Journalist Martin (Do It Anyway) delivers a remarkably candid and perceptive account of her decision to enroll her daughter in a majority Black public school in Oakland, Calif. With a "1 out of 10 rating" on GreatSchools.org, Emerson Elementary was not on the radar of other white parents in Martin's racially diverse, gentrifying neighborhood. Yet, on Martin's school tours, which included a private school whose social justice mission was belied by its carefully selected student body, Emerson stood out for its authenticity. In brisk, immersive chapters, Martin chronicles how she and her husband came to make their decision and her daughter's first three years at Emerson, and delves into conflicting viewpoints over school integration and the best ways to measure school performance, tensions between Emerson's Black immigrant and Black American families, and the role of public education in fostering democracy, among other topics. Ultimately, her family came to embrace Emerson, "a school with strong muscles for crises" that showed its resilience by coping better with the Covid-19 pandemic than more highly rated public schools. Vividly documenting school fund-raisers, contentious school board meetings, school drop offs, and back-to-school nights, Martin challenges preconceptions about American education and race relations today. Readers will be inspired and enlightened.