Unequal Fortunes ☆

Ms. Laura Scheiber, Ph.D. candidate, and Juan Carlos Reyes, Executive Assistant to the President of Teachers College, on Tuesday, September 14th, read from and discussed the compelling book, Unequal Fortunes: Snapshots from the South Bronx, (Teachers College Press, June 2010). The book, which was co-authored with President Emeritus Arthur Levine, is a highly personal account of two generations growing up on the same South Bronx Street, forty years apart. The authors revisit Levine’s childhood apartment and build a friendship with 14-year old Carlos Pilarte. They get to know Carlos’ two best friends Leonel Disla, and Juan Carlos Reyes.

All three young men provide an honest and insightful diary over a five-year period that focuses on the harsh realities of the inner city – a portrait of urban decline and tragedy, which contrasts sharply with life as Arthur Levine knew it forty years earlier. We learn of a more isolated and dangerous community ruined by the circumstances of poverty – violence, drugs, racism, and soaring rates of youth mortality. Leo falls victim to his surroundings when he is violently killed by the police. Despite the odds, Carlos and Juan Carlos make it to college and they describe in detail the people and experiences that helped them get there. The final chapter describes how to take the lessons learned from Carlos and Juan Carlos’ stories, apply them on a large scale, and help thousands of kids growing up in similar underprivileged communities to overcome poverty, social isolation and racism.

Unequal Fortunes is a strong call to educators, administrators, citizens, and parents about the impact of poverty on children and the critical role of education in our lives – a plea for schools to take action and pave the way for educational success rather than failure for all American children.

The talk not only touched upon the content of the book, but also provided a unique opportunity to talk candidly with one of the research participants about what it was like to work on such a project, and lessons to be learned for future ethnographers interested in studying urban education.

Arthur Levine is president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and president emeritus of Teachers College, Columbia University. He served as a faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, President of Bradford College, and a senior fellow at the Carnegie Corporation on Policy Studies in Higher Education and Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. He is a prolific author on issues of schools and colleges.

Laura Scheiber is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative and International Education at Teachers College. A Fulbright grant recipient, her doctoral research focuses on innovative leaders of violence prevention and youth empowerment initiatives in Brazil. She earned a MA at Teachers College, specializing in international educational development and adult education, and earned a B.A. in psychology. Laura served as a former anchorwoman for the Gottesman Libraries AfterEd News and has taught college-level courses on child development.

Juan Carlos Reyes is the Executive Assistant to the President at Teachers College. He is a student at Baruch College and will graduate this year in Political Science. His next step will be working toward making a difference in the lives of kids growing up in conditions similar to his childhood neighborhood.

This book talk was jointly sponsored by Teachers College Press, Office for Diversity and Community Affairs, and Gottesman Libraries. For related pieces see A Tale of Two Cities on the Teachers College website; transcript of the NPR interview; and edlab book trailer. Signed copies of the book will be available at the talk.

Referencing our Book Talk, Unequal Fortunes: Snapshots from the South Bronx, with Laura Scheiber & Juan Carlos Reyes, Tuesday, 9/14, 4-5:30pm