One of the many myths of American society is that everyone can succeed. Central to this idea is education. From an early age we’re told that if we do well in school we can go on to higher education. We’re told that money doesn’t have to be an obstacle, that race doesn’t matter, that we can succeed if we just work hard enough, that everyone can go to college, and that if we believe, all our dreams can come true. But while these assumptions may fare well for white middle class students, they’re hollow fantasies for most black, brown, and poor kids, who may even get scholarships to college only to encounter barriers they were never prepared for, that even their well-meaning teachers never anticipated, and that are all but insurmountable in a system that is inherently unfair.
My guest today is Linda Nathan, who taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Education for fifteen years and was the headmaster of the Boston Arts Academy. Dr. Nathan used to begin every school year promising the freshman class that all of them would graduate and continue on to college or a career. But as many of her students failed to graduate, she studied the reasons why and presents a harrowing look at the realities of education in her new book, When Grit Isn’t Enough: A High School Principal Examines How Poverty and Inequality Thwart the College For All Promise.