Foreword by: William Trent
Publication Date: August 6, 2021
Series: Language and Literacy Series
Anne Dyson confronts race and racism head-on with this ethnographic study of a child’s efforts to belong—to be a child among children. Follow the journey of a small Black child, Ta’Von, as he moves from a culturally inclusive preschool through the early grades in a school located in a majority white neighborhood. Readers will see Ta’Von encountering obstacles but finding agency and joy through writing and music-making, especially his love of the blues. Most attempts at desegregating schools are studied by reducing individual children to demographic statistics and test scores. This book, instead, provides a child’s perspective on challenges to classroom inclusion. Ta’Von’s journey demonstrates that it is within children’s peer worlds—formed in response to institutional policies and practices like desegregation initiatives, standardized testing, and a curricular focus on so-called “basic literacy skills”—that inequity becomes part of the experience of childhood. This book examines policies about literacy testing and teaching, including the potential power of the written word and of the arts.
Anne Haas Dyson is a professor of education policy, organization, and leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her books include (with Celia Genishi) Children, Language, and Literacy: Diverse Learners in Diverse Times and ReWRITING the Basics: Literacy Learning in Children's Cultures.
“ Writing the School House Blues is impressive because of Dyson’s conceptualization of the study. Key details are very helpful and informative, and useful insights enable readers to grow in understanding of Ta'Von and of the myriad ways in which the teaching of literacy and the role of assessed literacy competencies shape children's sense of belonging in school. Ultimately, Ta'Von's story can help everyone work toward inclusive communities of children.”
—Sir Read a Lot blog
“This is a book I’d place in every teacher education curriculum, and every aspiring PD intervention seeking to prepare would-be teachers to teach all kids better…What we learn from Writing the School House Blues are the multiple ways in which kindergarten and elementary school children internalize schooling practices and how they negotiate to secure their place in these spaces.”
—From the Foreword by William Trent, professor and associate head, Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership and director, Center for Education in Small Urban Communities, University of Illinois, Urbana, Champaign
“Anne Haas Dyson’s classroom fieldwork sits right alongside children: heart, mind, and soul. Few researchers have had a career so embedded inside the lives of children in a classroom context. Ta’Von, a key figure in her research, has been a fundamental part of her research over many decades. Writing the School House Blues tells the story of his educational journey. This book should be on every literacy researcher’s shelf. It is a culmination of years of Dyson’s relentless fight against deficit framings of children and the deep inequalities that continue to persist in the world.”
—Jennifer Rowsell, professor of literacies and social innovation, University of Bristol
“Anne Haas Dyson’s latest book is a unique contribution to understanding how young children make meaning. The close-up observations of the worlds of Ta’Von, an African-American child making his way through preschool through grade 2, are unforgettable. In order to negotiate and navigate the official and unofficial social and academic orders of the school, Ta’Von activates multiple resources assembled in everyday life, including insights from his family’s religious community and popular culture, especially the blues. Readers get to see the assets Ta’Von brings to learning to write and what he is able to work with in various contexts of learning. Writing the School House Blues is an insightful read.”
—Barbara Comber, research professor, University of South Australia
“Anne Haas Dyson’s pulse for a Black boy’s experiences, perspectives, and realities resulting from inequitable treatment inside the school urge readers to humanize and reimagine what it means to belong, become, and be a brilliant Black boy.”
—Brian L. Wright, associate professor, The University of Memphis