In her newest book, Julie Landsman looks unflinchingly at her life, from childhood through college, marriage, teaching and retirement. She recounts early experiences of race and racism, growing up in Connecticut, Massachusetts and, for a few years, in Texas. In college during the sixties, she began to engage issues of race — and gender and class. Activism “lit a fire under me,” she writes, and it is clear that the fire continues to burn.
Landsman’s stories illuminate today’s continuing racism. While acknowledging the progress made over the decades, she clearly describes the continuing significance of racism today. Her students feel the racism in their daily lives and in their classrooms. Adult friends, too, experience it.
“What all this makes clear, as when black friends are stopped for no reason walking to church in a ‘good’ neighborhood, when Latino friends’ children are automatically placed in lower track classrooms, when brown skinned kids are followed in stores, while their white friend are left alone, was this: my black friends continue to experience this country differently.”
After decades of teaching, Julie Landsman distills her life experience and her teaching experience into lessons for other teachers. In Growing Up White, she re-tells some stories from A White Teacher Talks About Race (2002, Rowman & Littlefield), and adds many more stories, all drawn from her life experience.
While Landsman writes about racism, and encourages white readers to identify and acknowledge their own racism, she does not want her readers to wallow in guilt.
Guilt is a way to center the problem in ourselves, to claim attention for our sense of shame. We can get so caught up in this shame that we cease to focus on the world around us. We can miss reasons for whole families’ homelessness, or the effects of the closing of public spaces, libraries, parks and what this might mean for our students and their families. In guilt, we get to turn inward and stay there.
Her aim is clarity and understanding, followed by action. Each of the short stories, framed as 45 lessons, end with reflection questions and suggestions for in-school applications. Those reflection questions and suggestions are also collected in one place in an appendix.
While I liked the smoother narrative structure of her earlier book better, this lesson-reflection-suggestion structure may work well for the classroom teachers who are the intended audience of this book.
One quibble: the book deserves better editing. When I read that what students read can have a “radical affect” on them, or see a reference to “Laura Ingles Wilder,” (p. 41) I am momentarily derailed. A decent job of editing would have caught such errors and corrected them. I’ve been on both sides of books, as an editor and as an author, and I know how much good editing can do for a book.
Mary Turck is the editor of the TC Daily Planet. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org