Kwanzaa and Me: A Teacher's Story

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Overview

"All these white schools I've been sent to are racist," Sonya says. "I'd have done better in a black school. I was an outsider here." These are hard words for Vivian Paley, whose own kindergarten was one of Sonya's schools, the integrated classroom so lovingly and hopefully depicted by Paley in White Teacher. Confronted with the grown-up Sonya, now on her way to a black college, and with a chorus of voices questioning the fairness and effectiveness of integrated education, Paley sets out to discover the truth about the multicultural classroom from those who participate in it. This is an odyssey undertaken on the wings of conversation and storytelling in which every voice adds new meaning to the idea of belonging, really belonging, to a school culture. Here are black teachers and minority parents, immigrant families, a Native American educator, and the children themselves, whose stories mingle with the author's to create a candid picture of the successes and failures of the integrated classroom. As Paley travels the country listening to these stories, we see what lies behind recent moves toward self-segregation: an ongoing frustration with racism as well as an abiding need for a nurturing community. And yet, among these diverse voices, we hear again and again the shared dream of a classroom where no family heritage is obscured and every child's story enriches the life of the schoolhouse.

"It's all about dialogue, isn't it?" asks Lorraine, a black third-grade teacher whose story becomes a central motif. And indeed, it is the dialogue that prevails in this warmly provocative and deeply engaging book, as parents and teachers learn how they must talk to each other, and to their children, if every child is to secure a sense of self in the schoolroom, no matter what the predominant ethnic background. Vivian Paley offers these discoveries to readers as a starting point for their own journeys toward community and kinship in today's schools and tomorrow's culture.

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Editorial Reviews

Chicago Tribune Magazine

Paley has learned the essential lesson, and from her little schoolroom in Hyde Park, she's taught it to a generation of teachers and parents and caretakers of children around the globe. It is this: Take very seriously the things that children say, and take equally seriously the things you say to your children...Paley has poured what she's heard onto the pages of eight remarkable books, the latest, Kwanzaa and Me: A Teacher's Story. Each book tackles a single central question of classroom life—the racism, the stories, the gender differences, the children's development, the outsider and the struggle to belong, the ethics, and the ways in which classrooms dismiss the differences, and thus the heart, of the children who make up their rosters...Along the way, and probably a good bit of the reason she was awarded a MacArthur Foundation 'genius' award in 1989, Paley has given all of us not just snapshots of the minds and souls of preschoolers and kindergartners but full-blown portraits of how they think, what they feel and the ways in which they imagine, complete with all the shadings and brush strokes that can be born only of a child's most intimate, unguarded revelations.
— Barbara Mahany

New York Times Book Review

[Paley's] message, conveyed with touching simplicity and never a heavy hand, is twofold. One component is to encourage people to talk to one another about race, and she is clearly a master of that. The second, more elusive, is what one of her colleagues calls 'the other curriculum,' which allows children to feel comfortable with their emotions and their differences... Every teacher and every parent should read this.
— David K. Shipler

Chicago Tribune Magazine - Barbara Mahany
Paley has learned the essential lesson, and from her little schoolroom in Hyde Park, she's taught it to a generation of teachers and parents and caretakers of children around the globe. It is this: Take very seriously the things that children say, and take equally seriously the things you say to your children...Paley has poured what she's heard onto the pages of eight remarkable books, the latest, Kwanzaa and Me: A Teacher's Story. Each book tackles a single central question of classroom life--the racism, the stories, the gender differences, the children's development, the outsider and the struggle to belong, the ethics, and the ways in which classrooms dismiss the differences, and thus the heart, of the children who make up their rosters...Along the way, and probably a good bit of the reason she was awarded a MacArthur Foundation 'genius' award in 1989, Paley has given all of us not just snapshots of the minds and souls of preschoolers and kindergartners but full-blown portraits of how they think, what they feel and the ways in which they imagine, complete with all the shadings and brush strokes that can be born only of a child's most intimate, unguarded revelations.
Senator Paul Simon
Paley has, once again, shown an uncanny sensitivity to what young people are interested in and meshed it with the needs of our society?
New York Times Book Review - David K. Shipler
[Paley's] message, conveyed with touching simplicity and never a heavy hand, is twofold. One component is to encourage people to talk to one another about race, and she is clearly a master of that. The second, more elusive, is what one of her colleagues calls 'the other curriculum,' which allows children to feel comfortable with their emotions and their differences... Every teacher and every parent should read this.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Paley, a white kindergarten teacher at the Univ. of Chicago Laboratory Schools, interviewed parents of black pupils, adult graduates of integrated schools, African American teachers, a Tlingit Indian Head Start teacher in Alaska and students of various racial and ethnic backgrounds. To her surprise, many of the black parents and teachers were deeply skeptical of the integrated classroom, citing subtle but pervasive racism, and said they favored all-black schools as the best environment to build their children's self-esteem and sense of identity. Recording her dialogues and encounters at conferences and schools around the country, Paley (You Can't Say You Can't Play) supports the multicultural classroom as a forum where teachers can help children recognize and accept individual differences. She also relates here her fictional stories featuring a runaway slave, Kwanzaa (whose name she took from the African American holiday), which she uses to teach about racism in this sensitive report. (Feb.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674505865
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/1996
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 1,031,631
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.56 (h) x 0.41 (d)

Meet the Author

Vivian Gussin Paley, a former kindergarten teacher, is the winner of a MacArthur Award and of the 1998 American Book Award for Lifetime Achievement given by the Before Columbus Foundation.
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