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Nonfiction Review: We Want to Do More Than Survive by Bettina Love

Title: We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom

Author: Bettina Love

Year Published: 2019

Category: Adult nonfiction
Pages: 200
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2021 Google Reading map) USA (Florida and Georgia)

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Drawing on her life’s work of teaching and researching in urban schools, Bettina Love persuasively argues that educators must teach students about racial violence, oppression, and how to make sustainable change in their communities through radical civic initiatives and movements. She argues that the US educational system is maintained by and profits from the suffering of children of color. Instead of trying to repair a flawed system, educational reformers offer survival tactics in the forms of test-taking skills, acronyms, grit labs, and character education, which Love calls the educational survival complex.

To dismantle the educational survival complex and to achieve educational freedom—not merely reform—teachers, parents, and community leaders must approach education with the imagination, determination, boldness, and urgency of an abolitionist. Following in the tradition of activists like Ella Baker, Bayard Rustin, and Fannie Lou Hamer, We Want to Do More Than Survive introduces an alternative to traditional modes of educational reform and expands our ideas of civic engagement and intersectional justice.

Review: This book has been on my TBR shelf for quite some while and I finally got around to reading it for a group I help run through our local university. We meet monthly with teachers from three counties to talk about antiracist teaching, identity, and related topics. In the Fall we read Ibram X. Kendi's How to Be an Antiracist and this book is our spring read.

I've seen Bettina Love on video/zoom before and she is a really interesting speaker so it's no surprise that her book is really good. She talks about her own person experiences in K12 education, growing up in Rochester, NY and the importance of community, trauma that is inflicted upon "dark bodies" (her phrase for children of color) and spirit murder (crushing the joy and brilliance for people of color).

She talks about the role schools and community play in raising children of color, ensuring that they know their worth. She has ideas of what needs to be done in society in general to make sure that people of color are doing more than just surviving, but thriving and how to combat systems of white supremacy.

I like that Love weaved stories from the headlines into her narrative, showing the connection between work done (or not done) in schools with what happens in the wider world. One such story is about how emphasizing "character" and "grit" in poor and urban schools suggests that students of color don't have these things and that if they did, everything will be better. She tells the story of Treyvon Martin who had grit and knew he was in danger so reacted by trying to leave the situation, but still ended up dead.

Our group is discussing chapters 1-4 this coming week and I look forward to hearing their thoughts as we ponder these two questions:
  • How would differentiate education that focuses on survival from that that focuses on freedom?
  • How does trauma impact or show up in your work in schools? What supports do you have in place to sustain yourself?
Challenges for which this counts: 
  • Diversity--Black author and subject matter (March mini challenge: #ownvoices or female author in non-fiction)
  • Literary Escapes--Georgia
  • Popsugar--Black and White cover, Black Lives Matter list

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