A memoir and a call to action, this intimate look at America’s long-standing struggle to adequately educate vulnerable children offers valuable insights for effecting change in families, communities, and nationwide.
At the root of every important problem we face, from mass incarceration to income inequality, is an education system influenced by our nation’s fraught history. Just as past generations fought to ensure that all Americans could enjoy the right to fully participate in our democracy, so must we rally tirelessly to advance an educational agenda that promotes equity and inclusion. With the gap between white academic achievement and that of students of color widening, now is the time to turn our attention to the basics, and few would argue with the fact that the single most essential aspect of a good education is literacy. Beyond reading and writing, literacy encompasses a whole host of skills that allow us to develop our potential and succeed in society, including critical thinking, self-discipline, curiosity, leadership, and motivation. Helping all our nation’s young people, especially those who live in low-income communities, improve their literacy skills should be a top priority.
Numerous programs are operating around the country to address the issue of underperformance in light of the shortcomings of our public school system. In Forever Free, Tracy Swinton Bailey charts the journey of one such program, her nonprofit Freedom Readers. From a childhood shaped by books to a career promoting the love of reading, she describes the hurdles and rewards of academia, teaching, mobilizing, and fundraising. Bailey outlines clearly and persuasively how Freedom Readers’ one-to-one tutoring model has worked in the rural South, and how it can work across the US. This book will inspire and empower readers, and should be placed in the hands of educators and organizers at every level.
The story behind Freedom Readers, an after-school and summer literacy program in South Carolina that works with students in low-income communities, is told in this inspirational account. Program founder Bailey describes her own love affair with books as a child, and her desire to bring "the magic of reading" to children who have been "pushed to the margins and viewed with suspicion by overworked, under-resourced teachers who have only a shallow understanding of what it means to be Black." Bailey also delves into the historical roots of segregation and discrimination in the American education system, details the value civil rights pioneers and Black scholars including Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois placed on reading, and charts the gap in average reading scores and other measures of academic success between white students and students of color. The pedagogy behind Freedom Readers, which offers one-on-one literacy tutoring and free books for children to take home, is examined, as are Bailey's efforts to solicit government funding and private donations, and the impact of Covid-19 shutdowns on the program. Bailey doesn't hold back in criticizing systemic inequalities in public schools and society at large, but her optimism shines through. Educators, parents, and school administrators will want to take a look.