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In the Deep Heart's Core Paperback – August 6, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Fresh from a postcollege, intensive five-week crash course, Johnston began his two-year stint with Teach for America, a program that addresses the needs of some of America's most desperate classrooms. In Johnston's case, it's a high school classroom in Greenville, Miss., with "chalkboards so scratched, rusted, and embedded with chalk dust that I couldn't read the boards even if I wrote on them with fresh white paint." There he teaches students who have been through "more funerals than honor roll assemblies" due to drugs and gang violence. The school system's countless institutional failures (among them, a counselor who sells high school credits) challenge Johnston's assurance that education was the "one valuable skill I could bring to Mississippi that she could use." The students' truancy, sexual promiscuity and aggression sorely test Johnston's conviction that "underneath, they were vulnerable... still children." Successes are minuscule and failure is rampant. What makes Johnston's account noteworthy is his ability to move beyond making generalizations about impoverished schools and students. Rather, he takes readers into the constricted and often doomed lives of individuals: Corelle catches up on months of work with a six-hour marathon, but drops out of school; "confident, gracious, and charismatic" Egina becomes the accidental victim of cross fire. Although Johnston occasionally catches sight of a "few students who were trying to work effectively," they occupy the periphery. "In making the Delta my home," he observes, "I found inside her a despair beyond any I could have imagined." That compassion, leavened with good sense, makes this honest and often painful account a moving, memorable call for action.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

A participant in Teach for America, which places teachers in needy areas throughout the country, recounts the program's 12-year history and its accomplishments.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; First Trade Paper Edition edition (August 6, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802140246
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802140241
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #610,209 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Bennett on December 4, 2009
Format: Paperback
Johnston's IN THE DEEP HEART's CORE is the work of a young man, and his eyes of innocence, his openness about the course corrections he made, and his ability to take the reader with him, make this a very worthwhile book, on its own. What makes it even more interesting is knowing some of the next chapters of the author's story. From two years teaching in the Mississippi Delta for Teach for America, he went to Harvard for a masters in Education, so he could learn more about how to run a school. While there, he co-founded an organization to recruit and train principals for inner city schools. Then he went to Yale for a law degree, so he would know more about how to get legislative backing for education. Then he came home to Colorado and was principal of schools for at-risk kids...in his last position, he took a school which had a graduation rate of 50%, to 100% with four-year- college admission for all graduates. Obama visited his school, and offered him a position in Washington. Instead, Johnston ran for state senate, and won. I am betting he will be in Washington soon. This is a fine writer, a fine Senator, a fine human being. You'll hear more from him.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Gus Huffman on September 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I was moved to tears many times while reading this book. Johnston's love for his newfound land is evident and his tender prose reads like poetry in parts. He clearly encountered countless hardships while teaching at Greenville High, but he is quick to take himself to task along with others, which shows his humility. I would recommend this beautifully written account to anyone interested in improving education in America.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Jacobson on May 6, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Twenty-two years old and fresh out of Yale, Michael Johnston, as a member of Teach for America, ventures to Greenville Mississippi to teach high school English. Greenville High School, like many other schools of its kind, has transformed from an all white school in the 1960s and earlier, to now being predominately a poor black school. It is riddled with drugs, violence, teen pregnancy and lost hope.

Johnston tells the stories of Greenville High's students over his two year period as a teacher there. He is able to get beneath the surface of stereotypes and develop an understanding and connection with his students, while learning what it means to truly "teach," while sharing in the triumphs and disappointments of his students. It is these battles that drive to the very core of the reader, filling them with a wave of emotions. He tells the story of a Chico, a star athlete with limitless possibilities who is courted by top colleges around the country, only to be swallowed by the same demons of hopelessness that claim so many of his peers. Johnston also tells the story of a promising young writer who is slowly being lured into the life of drugs and violence that fixates itself among these students' lives.

Overall, a great read, and it reminded me of Savage Inequalities, which I read a few years back and which also moved me in many ways. Johnston has a soft and smoothing demeanor, and his passion for his students and education are expressed well throughout the book. This book does not present solutions, but is meant rather to tell the students stories, and to a degree help shed light on some of the problems we as America still face. These types of schools are far too common and often swept under the rug in America. To look at Greenville High's students in the eyes is to face the reality not just that our race problem is far from solved, but that it is in fact festering in these pockets of abandonment.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I am a classmate and friend of the author at YLS and would like to refute the earlier character-attacking review from the YLS student. While I have not had the opportunity to read through the entire book myself, I have talked with the author about education issues and his book, and have found him to be highly informed. More importantly, I feel that he has a legitimate desire to improve the plight of those children from disadvantaged backgrounds through education reform.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover
What makes this book so uncommonly good is the author's refusal to hide behind the polite euphemisms of racial and social inequality that have for too long hampered most attempts to change the status quo in the deep South. This book's candid portrayals of hope and fear, frustration and tolerance at Greenville High make for a compelling read. Once you've started reading, you're hooked!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By C. Anderson James on September 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I was born in Greenville, Mississippi, myself, and though I have not lived there in some years, this book definitely reaches through to the realities of the place and shares some amazing stories. However, I'm not sure what kind of action Johnston is calling for in response to his writing. Some might think he's just pulling at heartstrings or attempting to bring up the problems with a community without offering any positive elements, and I can agree with both of those remarks. In the Deep Heart's Core provides an important glimpse of the problems and challenges that face the South, particularly Mississippi, as it tries to put the nastier elements of its history out of sight and out of mind. They're not gone, though -- the consequences of centuries of oppression are still very much visible, and Johnston shows this very well. Now if he can help point us to the solution.... Do we just need more people like him there? Do we need to just start over? What's the next step? That's the real question this book raises, and I only wish he had offered a version of his own answer to share with the reader and encourage us all to take action.
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