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Waiting for a Miracle: Why School Can’t Solve Our Problems and How We Can. – book reviews

James Corner, M.D., adds his name to the dozens of recent books
written about the effectiveness of American schools and matters of
race, culture; and intelligence. Waiting for a Miracle: Why School
Can’t Solve Our Problems and How We Can is a treatise on the
interconnectedness between sound child development and effective
schooling, family, and community and societal networks. It also
examines the historical impact of economic and social policies on the
development of groups in America.

The major thesis of Waiting for a Miracle puts forth the notion
that although schools can’t solve the problems of America, those
engaged in collaborations with teachers, administrators, and parents
can begin the long and arduous process of breathing new life into
American communities.

Comer eloquently reminds us of our failed collective memory and the
shortsighted view that sufficient time and energy have been devoted to
achieving a level playing field.

The Yale psychologist describes his work in New Haven as child
focused. His program, referred to as the School Development Process,
involves three teams that work together constantly: the school planning
and management team,which includes teachers and administrators and
addresses the needs of the entire school community; the parent team,
consisting of parents and community workers; and the student and staff
support team, consisting of counselors, mental health professionals,
social workers, and nurses, and whose task was to help children acquire
the proper behavior for learning in school.

Comer contends that a comprehensive school plan embodies both the
social and academic achievement areas, and involves t staff development
plan that is based on a no-fault principle utilizing consensus decision
making and collaboration to achieve program outcomes.

He shatters the myth of the rugged individual and that most
accomplishments in life are the result of individual efforts,
Successful outcomes, he contends. are determined by a series of three
concentric networks which influence and determine the quality of our
lives. These include the biological, physical, and value laden
characteristics acquired from family in the first network; the self
identification, peer influencing and value laden influences acquired in
the developmental stages of the second network, which often includes
other schools, jobs and organizations; and the third network where
polices and practices promulgated by political, business, and other
leaders have the ability to externally impact the lives of individuals.

His chapter on priming the pump and blaming the victim, so aptly
entitled “Rising Tides and Tied Boats”, is an excellent analysis of how
America has helped some of its citizens become active participants in
the democratic capitalism and how it has kept others — namely African
Americans — dependent, consumers, and outside the capitalist arena.

A major sub-thesis of Comer’s work is that most Americans have
benefitted from the industrial and technological revolutions that have
improved the quality of life in this country over the list seventy-five
years. Most Americans have been caught up in a rising tide of
prosperity, while African Americans have been like ship wrecks tied to
the bottom of the economic prosperity ocean.

Comer provides a brilliantly written historical analysis of
America’s efforts to broaden citizen participation in the capitalist
process through land grant distribution schemes. He discusses the three
economics stages of America’s development, describing them as
structured opportunities for Americans to attain wealth. Paying close
attention to the lives of banker J.P. Morgan and merchants George
Peabody and John Wannamaker, Comer describes how American economic
policies and land distribution schemes, which were literally gifted to
Americans (Northwest Territory, Louisiana Purchase) not only helped to
build the American infrastructure, but facilitated the amassing of
great fortunes in America.

In contrast, African Americans did not enjoy the benefits of
federal government largesse and were subjected to what Comer calls the
four shocks — the disruption of economic and political culture, the
effects of the middle passage, the imposition of Slavery as a way of
life, and the experience of emancipation without safeguards and access
to economic and political structures. So when policy makers or scholars
pose the question, “What’s wrong with Black people?,” and contend that
the playing field is “level,” Comer retorts that they do not know the
full history of America, and the belief that intelligence determines
outcomes is a myth.

Comer’s recounting of the deleterious effects of stereotyping the
remnants of racism is superb. In truth, Waiting for a Miracle is a
precisely written epic blueprint for the salvation of distressed
African American communities.

Waiting for a Miracle is a compassionate history lesson and a
rational appeal by one of the nation’s most renowned psychologists with
a proven track record for guiding schools into collaborations with
communities. If Comer’s words are to be heeded by educators, policy
makers, and politicians, then the challenge of having African Americans
reap the benefits of our rapidly changing society will require enormous
human capital investment. A good society, contends Comer, is one that
promotes desirable community, family, and child development.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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