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Book Review

Power, Protest, and the Public Schools: Jewish and African American Struggles in New York City

From the introduction: “Mainstream white society perceived Jews in the early twentieth century, like African Americans during the post-migration 1950s and 1960s, as a racially inferior group less deserving of the public resources granted to other citizens. [This book] maps out exactly how NYC’s public schools inhibited social advancement for Jews and African Americans at different periods; how activists, particularly parents and children, responded to inequality; and what changes, if any, resulted from their activism. Although the response by politicians and school administrators was surely disheartening for those who sought immediate and tangible results, this activism had long-term benefits that would underlie future activism. Jewish and African American protests against school inequality helped each group form a more cohesive identity and gave them the experience they would need to organize effective protests to combat other social inequalities.”

Accounts of Jewish immigrants usually describe the role of education in helping youngsters earn a higher social position than their parents. Melissa F. Weiner argues that New York City schools did not always serve as pathways to mobility for Jewish or African American students. Instead, at different points in the city’s history, politicians and administrators erected similar racial barriers to social advancement by marginalizing and denying resources that other students enjoyed. Power, Protest, and the Public Schools explores how activists, particularly parents and children, responded to inequality; the short-term effects of their involvement; and the long-term benefits that would spearhead future activism. Weiner concludes by considering how today’s Hispanic and Arab children face similar inequalities within public schools.