Reading with Patrick: A Teacher, a Student, and a Life-Changing Friendship by Michelle Kuo

Stars: 3 of 5

Though I appreciated the premise and substance of Reading with Patrick, it didn’t blow me away. As suggested by the title, the memoir revolves around the relationship between the author and her student. Patrick is a good kid but born into a world with systems working against him. He is born into a world that I only understand because of books like The New Jim Crow, The Fire This Time, and Reimagining Equality. I know it’s a privilege to only understand his world through books, but I’m glad that I have them now. For a long time, I thought the same things that other white(ish) middle class people did. Working hard would have saved people. I’ve since stopped assuming that people born into poverty, and under constant police surveillance because of their color means that they don’t work hard or that they are any more guilty of anything than their lighter counterparts.

Kuo does explain these dynamics and how they worked against Patrick and students like him from the start. For a broader understanding, I suggest the three books listed above. What this book does that the others can’t, is give us a specific story to identify it all with. We can get concepts in broad strokes, but understanding the impact that these systems have on a single life can be more powerful for many. It humanizes the effect of these systems and the way things work right now and exactly what activists are striving to change about it.

At no point does Kuo, or Patrick for that matter, shy away from the personal responsibility aspect of what happens. They recognize that there is more to this overall situation than personal responsibility and do recognize the other choices alongside the other circumstances that could have brought about a different end to the story. That was most of my favorite parts, where Kuo would look at it all from different angles to see a different outcome. She would take out her involvement, or a system, or personal responsibility, and think about whether or not everyone ended up in the same place, without assuming anything absolutely. As with improving everything else in life, finding the root causes that bring people to the point of being confronted with such choices can do a good job at lessening it’s occurrence.

This is a great book for anyone who needs a personal story to humanize the way systems of oppression impact kids and the anyone looking for a story about teachers or how the quality of education influences outcomes.

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