Book Talk | Ghosts in the Schoolyard
The Race and Public Space Working Group at NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge and NYU’s Department of Social and Cultural Analysis invite you to join us for a conversation between Eve L. Ewing and Michael Ralph to discuss Ewing’s new book, Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side.
“Failing schools. Underprivileged schools. Just plain bad schools.”
That’s how Eve L. Ewing opens Ghosts in the Schoolyard: describing Chicago Public Schools from the outside. The way politicians and pundits and parents of kids who attend other schools talk about them, with a mix of pity and contempt.
But Ewing knows Chicago Public Schools from the inside: as a student, then a teacher, and now a scholar who studies them. And that perspective has shown her that public schools are not buildings full of failures—they’re an integral part of their neighborhoods, at the heart of their communities, storehouses of history and memory that bring people together.
Never was that role more apparent than in 2013 when Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced an unprecedented wave of school closings. Pitched simultaneously as a solution to a budget problem, a response to declining enrollments, and a chance to purge bad schools that were dragging down the whole system, the plan was met with a roar of protest from parents, students, and teachers. But if these schools were so bad, why did people care so much about keeping them open, to the point that some would even go on a hunger strike?
Ewing’s answer begins with a story of systemic racism, inequality, bad faith, and distrust that stretches deep into Chicago history. Rooting her exploration in the historic African American neighborhood of Bronzeville, Ewing reveals that this issue is about much more than just schools. Black communities see the closing of their schools—schools that are certainly less than perfect but that are theirs—as one more in a long line of racist policies. The fight to keep them open is yet another front in the ongoing struggle of black people in America to build successful lives and achieve true self-determination.
Eve Louise Ewing is a writer and scholar from Chicago. She is the author of two books, the widely lauded Electric Archesand When the Bell Stops Ringing: Race, History and Discourse amid Chicago’s School Closures. Her research is focused on racism, social inequality, and urban policy, and the impact of these forces on American public schools and the lives of young people. She is an Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. Eve’s work has been published in many venues, including The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post. She often uses public platforms to discuss these social issues, particularly Twitter, where she is a well-recognized commentator with over 150,000 followers and 25-40 million views each month. She also co-directs Crescendo Literary, a partnership that develops community-engaged arts events and educational resources.
Michael Ralph is an associate professor in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University. His research integrates political science, economics, history, and medical anthropology through an explicit focus on debt, slavery, insurance, forensics, and incarceration. He is the author of one book, Forensics of Capital (University of Chicago Press, 2015), and has published in Social Text and South Atlantic Quarterly. He is a member of the Social Text Editorial Collective, the Souls Editorial Working Group, and the editorial boards of Transforming Anthropology and Sport in Society.