People have differing opinions on the effectiveness of No Child Left Behind. Regardless of your general thoughts on the legislation, one thing we can all agree on is that the data generated as a result of the act made the “achievement gap” public knowledge (See here, here, and here for statistics and general information). The achievement gap is the difference in educational outcomes between students from minority and low-income families and the outcomes of more affluent and Caucasian students. What is not as widely realized is that a large reason behind this gap in achievement is related to social justice. I’ve heard many people argue that “some parents” just don’t care as much about their child’s education or “some groups of people” don’t emphasize education “as much as they should”. In response to this sort of thinking, I generally recommend that people read a book called There are no Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz.
This book provides a window into the lives of two brothers living in the Henry Horner Homes housing project in Chicago. Readers become aware of the issues these young boys face at home and come to understand more of the experiences of many American youth. The effects of gang violence, domestic abuse, and human rights violations are undeniable. Reading this book can’t but help people understand that a leading cause of the achievement gap is not that some students don’t care about education, but that these students must focus their energies on mere survival and not if their homework is done each night. This book brings awareness to the living situations of many of America’s youth.
Some argue that the mother, LaJoe, is responsible for the situation of her children, but I challenge those readers to really think about what she has the power and ability to do given the situation she faces. While Kotlowitz focuses on the children, a follow-up or even ending chapter that addressed some issues at the parental level might help to address these criticisms. I also wish there was an elaboration on the methods used to collect the data for this narrative. While it would be distracting in the actual text, an appendix chapter giving the details would be nice for those who wish to understand more regarding how this book came to fruition. Despite these criticisms, with over 20% of America’s children living in poverty, it is important for society to be aware of the varied home life experiences of children. This book helps people to understand just that.