Book Review: The Guide for White Women who Teach Black Boys

The Guide for White Women who Teach Black Boys. Eddie Moore Jr., Ali Michael & Marguerite W. Penick-Parks. California: Corwin, 2018. 420 pp.

Reviewed by Laura L. Arroyo,  Associate Director for Educational Initiatives, University of Colorado Boulder. Educational Equity EdD Program, University of Colorado Denver

“If we believe Blackness matters in our teaching relationships—Whiteness must matter too” (Moore et al, 2018, p. 14). It is rare that we encounter a book so relevant and timely to the current needs in education, however, The Guide for White Women who Teach Black Boys, by Eddie Moore Jr., Ali Michael & Marguerite W. Penick-Parks fits that need and much more. The Guide for White Women who Teach Black Boys is a book designed by educators, for educators; its prose is approachable, engaging, and reflective.

With the over 80% of current K-12 educators across the nation identifying as White women, this book is apropos to recognizing the needs of Black boys seeking refuge, education, advocacy and inspiration from educators; educators who are often woefully ill-prepared for the identity-based work they will face.  For White-identifying female educators failing to attend to those needs, wants, passions, hopes, and dreams; this book can serve as a critical, and timely, first step.

Through vignettes, personal storytelling, reflective exercises and a strong theoretical framework, The Guide for White Women who Teach Black Boys encourages deep self-reflection for White women through their personal race and identity journey. Personal stories of Black boys are shared poignantly, and the failures (and successes) of White women educators are discussed with remarkable candor. The book is meant as an intentional guide to learning, and it is broken into the following key sections: exploring self, challenging narratives, respecting the diversity of experience and identity of Black boys, key relationships with stakeholders (parents, colleagues, and community), and connections to school structures and classroom strategies. Each section provides interactive exercises including self-reflection, video resources, and historical commentary. The result is “not solely a guide to understand Black boys. It is as much — if not more so —  a guide to understanding what it means to be a White woman” (Moore et. al, 2018, p.10). The book also quite successfully connects many identity-based theories which discuss the stages of White racial identity from colorblindness to awareness, and works closely to engage storytelling and narrative research present within critical race theory.

The three primary authors of The Guide for White Women who Teach Black Boys, Eddie Moore Jr., Ali Michael & Marguerite W. Penick-Parks, are richly diverse in professional backgrounds, identities, and perspectives; and they, alongside the talented and impressive list of over eighty contributors, bring a strong and dynamic prose to the writing of this book. With marked contributions by writers across the fields of primary, secondary and higher education, social justice, inclusion and equity, The Guide for White Women who Teach Black Boys weave together a multitude of impassioned voices lifted up in earnestness to address an educational system vastly failing racial justice. Keeping with the book’s primary purpose, many personal narratives from Black boys are also highlighted which helps to center the overall book theme and purpose. Moore, Michael and Penick-Parks, all previous or current K-12 educators as well as respected social justice educators, also draw heavily on their professional expertise of issues involving Whiteness and the privilege and power. To that end, all authors come to the writing od this book uniquely qualified, although certainly highly leaning to the belief of how greatly Whiteness impacts Black boys within the K-12 educational model.

The Guide for White Women who Teach Black Boys illustrates in great detail how White women educators fail Black boys. However, it also highlights the education system, and how it is in fact doing what it was built to do; maintain structures of oppression and white supremacy (Moore et. al, 2018, p. 12). By highlighting not only the responsibility of White female educators to educate themselves, but also defining the education system as one built with intention to oppress, The Guide for White Women who Teach Black Boys places a call for systemic change which is deepened through each chapter, each narrative and each reflection exercise shared.
 In chapter one, contributor Debby Irving shares her personal account of choosing to teach in the Cambridge Public School System, the misguided passion that can come from a White female savior mentality, and the damage which can and did result. She earnestly discusses the aspects of dominant White culture which single out Black boys, and the biases that result from lack of knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Black culture (Moore et. al, 2018, pp. 17-27).

This example is a key opener to the importance of self-identity work alongside understanding the influence that systems have on replicating oppression in the classroom. In chapter three, “Advancing the Success of Boys and Men of Color,” educational disparities experiences by Black boys are shared in striking juxtaposition to the trends of graduation, retention and academic success by White counterparts. “The pipeline” is reinvented with key suggestions for intervention and partnership through decision making informed by data and research. These statistics and data are then followed by a personal narrative written by Solomon Smart, a ten-year-old Black boy currently living the research just reported (Moore et. al, 2018, pp. 40-54).  In chapter 9, “Respecting Black Boys and their History,” contributor Jawanza Kunjufu furthers this by providing a rich plea to the power of understanding the history and culture of Black identifying people, a crucial aspect to helping to create positive identity development for Black boys. By challenging White female educators to know and share history not only of racism but also of Black contributions spanning from the BC era to current day, the narrative of Black culture seen merely from a place of deficit is firmly disrupted (Moore et. al, 2018, pp. 91-96). This is then continued through the request to “equalize student status” and disrupt the tension of power present in a classroom through seeing Black boys as authentic experts in their learning process (Moore et. al, 2018, p.115). Through this mix of data, personal story, reflection and powerful prose, each chapter builds on the last to result in “a call to justice” addressed to White women educators as a whole.

The Guide for White Women who Teach Black Boys steadily works to answer the call for equity within urban education; a system often led by White educators for children they do not understand. Through this book, female-identifying educators can learn to disrupt the impact of Whiteness in a K-12 educational system and strive to “beat the overwhelming odds and become successful teachers of Black boys and young men” (Singleton, 2018, p. xii). As a White identifying female educator with over fifteen years in the field, I found myself wishing this book had been written years ago, due to its relevance and impact for my own work. Overall, I highly recommend this book, it is critical for all educators but particularly relevant for White women educators.

Moore Jr., E., Michael, A., Penick-Parks, M. (2018). The guide for White women who teach Black boys. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin.