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The Children in Room E4: American Education on Trial

The Children in Room E4: American Education on Trial

by Susan Eaton

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With our nation's urban schools growing more segregated every year, Susan Eaton set out to see whether separate can ever really be equal. An award-winning journalist, Eaton spent four years at Simpson-Waverly Elementary School, an all-minority school in Hartford, Connecticut. Located in the poorest city in the wealthiest state in the nation, it is a glaring


With our nation's urban schools growing more segregated every year, Susan Eaton set out to see whether separate can ever really be equal. An award-winning journalist, Eaton spent four years at Simpson-Waverly Elementary School, an all-minority school in Hartford, Connecticut. Located in the poorest city in the wealthiest state in the nation, it is a glaring example of the great racial and economic divide found in almost every major urban center across the country.

The Children in Room E4 is the compelling story of one student, one classroom, and one indomitable teacher, Ms. Luddy. In the midst of Band-Aid reforms and hotshot superintendents with empty promises, drug dealers and street gangs, Ms. Luddy's star student, Jeremy, and his fellow classmates face tremendous challenges both inside and outside of a school cut off from mainstream America.

Meanwhile, across town, a team of civil rights lawyers fight an intrepid battle to end the de facto segregation that beleaguers Jeremy's school and hundreds of others across America.

From inside the classroom and the courtroom, Eaton reveals the unsettling truths about an education system that leaves millions of children behind and gives voice to those who strive against overwhelming odds for a better future.

Editorial Reviews

Washington Post Book World
"Timely and important."—The Washington Post Book World
the Oprah magazine O
"Riveting."—O: The Oprah Magazine
"Powerful. . . . Eaton's book makes a stirring companion to Jonathan Kozol's The Shame of a Nation."—New York Newsday
Chicago Tribune
"Compelling....Vivid."—Chicago Tribune
Boston Globe
"[Eaton] has written a book that goes to the heart of who we are as a nation, of what we mean when we ask our children to pledge allegiance to the flag of 'one nation, indivisible.'"—The Boston Globe
Publishers Weekly
The separate but equal doctrine may have been repudiated by the Supreme Court, but as Eaton cogently demonstrates in this stirring and sobering account of the school system in inner-city Hartford, Conn., major educational inequality still exists in many inner-city schools. Eaton chronicles the progress of Sheff v. O'Neill, a case brought against the state in 1989, charging that school districts in Hartford and its environs were rigidly drawn to ensure segregation of poor and minority students. By encapsulating these students in racially isolated, underfunded schools, the state has created a self-perpetuating cycle of poverty and substandard academic achievement. A graceful and fluent writer, Eaton reviews the circumstances in which local and state politics allowed this situation to arise and worsen over time. She follows the inception and progress of the court case, creating suspense about its outcome. (Though the case was decided in favor of the plaintiffs, appeals are still pending after 18 years, since the state has failed to meet its mandated goals.) As long as there is racial isolation, Eaton convincingly demonstrates, schools will not improve and students will be denied the chance to learn at the same rate as their suburban neighbors, thereby impeding their chances to improve their lives and their futures. By bringing this situation to light, she has significantly articulated the problems that challenge politicians, school boards and concerned citizens. (Jan. 19) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this compact book, journalist Eaton tackles the complex reality of de facto school segregation as it exists in the United States today. She personalizes her account of the case Sheff v. O'Neil-a quest for improved educational opportunities for inner-city minority children, on which the Connecticut Supreme Court issued its decision ten years ago-through Jeremy, a bright and optimistic third-grade student at Simpson-Waverly Elementary, one of Hartford's poorest schools. Eaton interweaves Jeremy's story with the history of Hartford's segregated inner core, the policies and processes that created these circumstances, the effects of racial and economic isolation on the city's schools and children, and the efforts of a group of civil rights lawyers and citizens to challenge the social systems and structures that keep black schools black, and white schools white, in one of the richest states in the nation. This tightly written account culminates with vignettes from both suburban and urban classrooms about the relative effects of high-stakes testing in both settings, thus ending with a reminder to activists everywhere that the fight for equality never ends. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries.-Jean Caspers, Linfield Coll. Lib., McMinnville, OR Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A compelling scrutiny of the resegregation of American public schools, and of those fighting against a return to the bad old days. In her expertly constructed narrative, Eaton (The Other Boston Busing Story, not reviewed, etc.) analyzes the complex factors hindering fair access to a quality education for the nation's children, a problem with a long and messy history. Beginning with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, the U.S. courts were, for a few decades, a place where civil rights made significant gains. But in many locales the attempts at desegregation were never well established, and by the late '80s, the ground gained was quickly being lost. The roots of today's educational inequity are, for many, almost invisible. The author presents a charming group of kids from an inner-city school in Hartford, Conn., who struggle to learn in a typically demoralized and under-funded urban public school. Eaton takes her time illustrating how inner-city students, many from single-parent families of the working poor and from crowded, broken-down neighborhoods, require more support than their suburban counterparts in lavishly funded schools. Spend a day or a week or a year with many of the students in Room E4, as she did, and the urgent need for improved educational equity becomes clear. Eaton supplements her richly textured classroom portrait with accounts of the courtroom progress of Sheff v. O'Neil, a lawsuit striving to make legally explicit the "blameless" segregation created by the convergence of zoning regulations, municipal politics, discriminatory housing and banking policies and the creation of suburbs. She demonstrates that de jure segregation has been replaced by de facto segregation.There are few winners in this account, and it's clear that the problems of our troubled public schools have no easy or quick solution. Eaton investigates what it truly means to say we will leave no child behind-and asks if we have the commitment to live up to that promise. Agent: Geri Thoma/Elaine Markson Literary Agency

Product Details

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.26(w) x 9.26(h) x 1.50(d)

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Susan Eaton documents the corrosion of our nation's deepest faith. Rarely do journalists who have the chops for such difficult subjects possess the intellectual dexterity to hold together the many strands of information the rigorous research imparts. Rarer still are those who also have the writerly skill to tell complex stories beautifully and compellingly. Most cannot remain emotionally open because the experience will absolutely break their hearts. Eaton has it all: the artistry, the brains, the soul. The Children in Room E4 is our lucky gift. It is an outstanding book."
–Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of the NYT Bestseller Random Family

"The Children in Room E4 is a vivid and compelling book. To a subject of daunting complexity, Susan Eaton has brought a remarkable clarity of vision and also a deeply humane spirit, the kind of spirit that some, thank God, still struggle to bring to public education."
–Tracy Kidder, author of Among School Children and /Mountains Beyond Mountains

Meet the Author

Susan Eaton, an award-winning journalist specializing in education, is the research director at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard, where she received her doctorate in education policy.

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