Home / News / New book highlights Evanston’s quest for the American Dream – Chicago Tribune

New book highlights Evanston’s quest for the American Dream – Chicago Tribune


Education journalist Benjamin Herold’s recently published novel follows five suburban families, including a mixed-race family from Evanston, as they attempt to achieve the long-sought American Dream as politics in the American suburbs continues to change.

Herold published her first book, “Disappointments: Five Families and the Unraveling of America’s Suburbs,” a nonfiction narrative she wrote after following families living in the suburbs of multiple major American cities from 2018 to 2022. Herold worked as an education journalist for almost a year. decade, previously covered Philadelphia Public Schools. He worked in the school system where he became increasingly interested in education policy. After moving on to earn a master’s degree in urban education at Temple University, Herold began to examine education and its connection to American life more seriously.

“‘Disappointment’ is really about demographic changes in the suburbs and public schools and how communities, school systems and families are responding to those changes,” Herold said. “Our suburbs are not offering what we expected and signed up for.”

The families featured in the book come from all over the country and are represented from Compton, California; Lucas, Texas; Winnetka, Georgia; Pine Hills, Pennsylvania and Evanston. Lucas is north of Dallas and is a newer area that Herold said is still racially and economically exclusive. At the other end of the spectrum, Herold says, even if we don’t think of the city as a suburb, it still experiences the same signs of suburban growth, including white flight, exclusion, disinvestment and decline. Winnetka, Georgia, is located outside of Atlanta, and Herold’s book features a single Black mother who buys a house three doors down from her childhood home in Pine Hills outside Pittsburgh.

Evanston schools stood out to Herold in part because of their long history of working to maintain racial balance; He said this thing wasn’t as successful as it was in Evanston. The city also has relatively more highly educated residents and has stood the test of time compared to other suburbs, making it right in the middle of the pack.

“I really came to Evanston hoping to learn lessons about how suburban school systems, communities and families can navigate some of these transitions in a way that works for Evanston,” he said.

Other communities Herold studied are considered mid-century post-war suburbs that grew too quickly and had what he calls “a history of racial privilege.” By comparison, Evanston has a history of inclusivity and progressive activism.

Despite steps taken to combat racism and promote equality in Evanston, there have been racially charged incidents at local schools. nooses are hanging at Haven Middle School and swastikas painted in the bathroom at Nichols Middle School.

It was revealed that Herold, a mother from Evanston whose identity is kept secret under the name Lauren Adesina, was involved in the incident. local school activism After his son was called a racial slur in primary school in 2018.

“Because these tensions are a real push to emphasize racial equality, to no longer sweep racist incidents under the rug, to directly tackle the root causes of racial inequalities, there is a backlash against that as well,” Herold said. .

That backlash became the central theme of the book, which Herold says pushed local schools to back away from that commitment. It points to the ongoing conversation about Ward 5 school rebuilding in Evanston, a predominantly Black area of ​​the city.

Herold calls the issue complex and says having a neighborhood school would provide space for students who were not able to reap the benefits of racially diverse schools and repair a historical harm, but it could also be seen as a step back toward segregation-like policies.

“Even if a place like Evanston is really ahead of the rest … it actually turns out to be a lot harder to change direction than we think,” he said. “In some ways, I was very concerned and sobered by how difficult this had become, even in Evanston.”

The reason these problems persist even in progressive districts like Evanston, Herold says, is because of how slow school systems can be to take action and move past their stodgy systems. This disconnect between how quickly parents want change to happen and how slowly school districts and other large institutions can implement change is causing more problems.

“This often doesn’t align with the timelines and expectations of parents who say, ‘I don’t want my kids to be insulted, discriminated against, or harmed at school,'” she said.

Despite these obstacles, Herold is impressed by the continued resilience of parents who want the best for their children.

“Parents all over the country are going through some sort of process of wanting more, wanting better, and struggling to find it, but it’s not that energy, that strength, that drive to want a better life and a better future for our kids.” “Don’t go,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of hope and resilience to be taken from this.”

Herold doesn’t believe the solution is to reverse suburban sprawl, but instead America will have to confront the problems, work to repair the damage done, and figure out how to make things work. He expects this, as demographic shifts accelerate and the American middle class shrinks, to be just the beginning of decades of conflict in America’s suburbs.

“What we see now, almost a century later, is that we are still trying to reckon with the impacts of these historic policy decisions that were made to reinforce segregation and racial hierarchy,” Herold said. “This will be a long and painful process.”


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