I’m a New York City school administrator. Here’s how segregation lives on. ~ Amy Piller

The doors opened to our homemade banners and smiling faces. It was the first day of school ever for the Urban Assembly Unison Middle School in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. It was my first day ever as a leader in the school I co-founded. I was 27 years old.

The racial demographics of the 85 students arriving: 74 percent African American, 15 percent Hispanic, 9 percent Asian, and one white student. At the beginning of sixth grade these students, on average, read at a second-grade reading level. Nearly 40 percent of them had special needs, 35 percent had been left back once or twice, 10 percent lived in temporary housing, 10 percent lived in foster care, and 92 percentlived in families whose aggregate family income fell below the federal poverty line.

My colleagues and I started this school in 2012 because we wanted to bring a progressive curriculum called Learning Cultures — which promotes collaboration and creativity and all the qualities that middle-class families want in their children’s education — to a population of students that normally gets stuck with rigid, test-prep-oriented teaching. I’d seen Learning Cultures work at a school with both well-to-do and less well-off kids in downtown Manhattan. I wanted to see it work in a full-on high-poverty Brooklyn school, too.

We’ve had tremendous success in our three years as a school: Test scores are improving, and our students are getting better and better at reading. But our school, like so many others in New York City, remains segregated: by Christmas our first year, our one white student transferred out. Last year, white children made up just 2 percent of our student body.

My time in the New York City public school system —€” first as a student, then as a teacher, and now as an administrator —€” has shown me that segregation is unacceptable. No amount of curriculum magic, or experienced teachers, or school choice, can overcome the fact that to overcome educational inequality, white students need to be in school with minority students.

American schools are resegregating

Stories of resegregation in America’s public schools are popping up everywhere, from Missouri to Alabama to New York City. Nationally, racial segregation in schools hasreturned to levels not seen since 1968.

Percent black students at marjority white schools

New York City is among the worst offenders. Among the city’s 1.1 million public school students — the largest school system in the nation — children of color have an 80 percent chance of attending a school where the student body consists of fewer than 10 percent white children. Fifty percent of white students attending New York City public schools are concentrated in 7 percent of the schools.

Statewide, African-American and Latino students typically attend schools where 70 percent of the students are low-income, whereas white students typically attend schools where 30 percent of the students are low-income.

Bad as this appears from the outside, on the inside it’s even worse. Teachers try to make separate equal. And policies push schools to make it more separate.

I’ve spent almost my entire life in New York City schools

I’ve spent 22 of my 30 years in the New York City public school system. In 1990, I started kindergarten at PS 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, the borough’s best elementary school, because my family lied. My parents told the school that I lived in a family friend’s house within the zone that guaranteed enrollment in this school. They taught me to memorize her address and phone number at age 4, and saved the money to move into the neighborhood a year later.

In summer 2007, I had just graduated from Brown University with a degree in poetry. I began six weeks of training with the New York City Teaching Fellows that promised to prepare me to teach “at risk” students middle school English. As I began, a warning from my undergraduate mentor replayed ominously in my head: “The New York City Teaching Fellows Program is like putting a resident in for complex brain surgery.”

Though admitted to the Teaching Fellows, I still needed to apply to get hired to work at a particular school, so I attended a hiring fair. As I entered the ballroom, I saw a maze of tables in a sea of balloons. A sign indicated that balloon height specified the grade level of jobs available and balloon color, the subject area. I had crossed my first threshold into the bureaucracy of the New York City Department of Education.

I waited in line at table after table. High-performing schools took one look at my résumé and wished me well. Schools with poor families and low test scores scheduled me to come in to give a demonstration lesson. One interviewer asked me, “What are you going to do when someone calls you a dumb white bitch?” I began to see the glaring paradox firsthand: Though I was the least qualified, I was only viable at the schools with the most needy students.

I eventually got hired at M 301, a high-poverty, segregated middle school on the Lower East Side. My lack of training quickly rubbed up against a high-risk population that needed an experienced neurosurgeon.

The majority of the students at the school lived in households that made less than $25,000 per year. Many of the children I taught lived with their families in shelters, or had become separated from their families because of crime or substance abuse. Research shows that lumping together kids with such extreme needs dramatically hampers their academic achievement. Regardless, these students sat before me.

There were no dictionaries in classrooms, limited basic office supplies (forget a class set of pencils), and few books. The school did not have the budget for these basic necessities. To make up for these deficits, I wrote grants through Donors Choose, a nonprofit that allows teachers to try to fix problems themselves. At first I raised funds to buy my students dictionaries and books, and later classroom laptops. But these wins were far from sufficient to overcome the deeper challenges my students faced.

I spent one class period tending to a student who wrote an essay about her father killing himself with a knife in her presence, another with a student who wrote about her family’s recent move to a shelter where the showers didn’t work. As story after story poured out, I naively hoped that the number of tragedies would be finite. After all the stories were told, we would be able to focus on the much-needed literacy instruction.

I was wrong. There was only one guidance counselor in the building, and I continued listening. On some days I would sit for an hour at the end of the school day, staring at the wall and trying to make sense of what had happened that day.

For disadvantaged students, unprepared teachers are typical and non-accidental. The school segregation machine begins when students attend local community schools across the nation because of how schools receive funding.

How schools get their funding

Nationwide, on average, states provide 45 percent of school funding by allocating money to schools based on the number of students attending and those students’ needs. Local budgets, collected from property taxes, contribute an average of 44.8 percent of school budgets, but this percentage varies substantially.

The local contribution varies because districts set their own school budgets. Well-off districts can set these school budgets as high as they wish. In poorer districts, property values and incomes are too low to create the revenue to significantly increase the school budget.

This inequity is longstanding. For the 13 years before I became a teacher, a group of New York City parents had advocated to close this gap through an organization called Campaign for Fiscal Equity. Their campaign was based on the idea that the New York state school funding formula was unconstitutional, and they won the lawsuit saying so. As a result, by 2006 the state guaranteed “foundation aid,” or adjusted per pupil funding, to even the playing field by guaranteeing equitable school funding in poor districts. But it didn’t last long: When tax revenues went down during the Great Recession, the state stopped guaranteeing such equitable funding.

Mentors who had weathered the Department of Education for years encouraged me not to despair. They told me that New York City has it better than many poorer, more rural districts because it operates as one big district with a wider socioeconomic range than most small districts. Even if state funding was inequitable, constituents, rich or poor across the city, are part of the same district. The logic: Per-student funding, though insufficient, should at least be equal.

I quickly learned that this too was not the case. When schools received insufficient state funds, local dollars had to first go to the basics: academic subject area teachers and tables. Indirect needs — tagged as arts programming and support services — took a back seat.

How, then, did some schools seem to be better off? The parent-teacher association!

PTA fundraising does not appear on state and federal books, making real comparisons impossible, but it is pivotal in the highly unequal districts of New York City. Parent-teacher associations in higher-income areas can raise millions of dollars per year for arts and enrichment programs, and even basic supplies, libraries, and support services. Schools like mine have PTAs that struggle to raise more than a thousand dollars over the course of a given year.

My job was to teach with the resources I had. After weeks of barely getting their attention for long enough to utter a phrase, a turning point: Rather than yelling I simply wrote, “I believe in you,” on the board and pointed at it. For 25 minutes students shouted “shut up” at one another, until they quieted and I had their attention. Before I could teach them anything, I needed them to believe that despite any prior school challenges, they could learn.

Encountering their hopeful faces each day, I tried new pedagogical methods as fast as I could learn them in hopes that something would catch. However haphazard my initial attempts, I strove for improved literacy, which I knew would be evaluated by state exams come the end of the school year. I believed in the idea of standardized testing to evaluate my students’ progress in literacy because of its support from civil rights activist organizations. If the tests could help identify problem trends to justify needed changes in systems, structures, and curriculum, then they would be worthwhile.

While their scores improved, I knew my students still couldn’t truly read, and I felt unsure of how much to trust state test results. Inconsistencies in test design were troubling — in my first year, the listening passage titled “Lydia’s Lasso” left many urban teachers hopelessly gesturing the rodeo motion. The next year’s passage on basketball, however, was much more universally accessible. Then-President Bush’s federal education legislation No Child Left Behind had linked increased state test scores with federal funding, and in turn states were almost certainly making tests easier to get it.

I knew enough to recognize that the tests were too easy, but I still did not know how to catch students up. I got little professional development or feedback at school. To get my official teacher’s certificate, my nights were consumed by my master’s program in English education, where I had to argue about Foucault, not practice pedagogy. By the end of my second year teaching, I found myself in need of more support, unsure where to turn, and on the precipice of quitting.

I was not alone in this predicament. The most challenging jobs in teaching are the least competitive. Those jobs begin with a task that is near insurmountable, offer the same pay as an easier school, with fewer resources and less support, and thus create a high likelihood of failure and burnout.

[Editor’s note: Deputy Press Secretary Toya Holness of the New York City Department of Education says: “All students deserve an equitable and excellent education. Recruiting and training high-quality teachers for all our neighborhoods is a top priority for the Department of Education and we provide a range of recruitment tools focused on cultivating interest in opportunities that are in harder to staff schools.”]

Often the national conversation on improving education focuses on firing bad teachers. But for segregated schools, hiring is just as pivotal and often more challenging. Segregated schools are usually forced to settle on hiring teachers who have been subtly pushed out of jobs at other schools, or hiring inexperienced teachers like myself from feeder programs like Teach for America and New York City Teaching Fellows.

While almost two-thirds of Teach for America members continue to teach after two years,fewer than 25 percent stay in their original, low-income school beyond three years. Nationally, teacher turnover is 50 percent higher in high-poverty schools. Worse still, teacher turnover has a directly negative impact on student achievement in English and math.

I knew I was not learning the craft of teaching at the speed I needed to, and that I needed access to more experienced and successful teachers to do so. I was managing to stay afloat, but was nowhere near the cutting edge of innovation I knew my students needed. After two years I decided to leave for a different teaching job where I could better hone my skills. I agonized over this decision. My students, of course, did not have the option of coming with me. In one sad goodbye note, a student wrote: “I’m gonna miss you 😦 But when you’re doin’ so good the only place to go is up.” In transferring schools, I became part of the pattern of teachers who leave segregated schools.

Switching schools showed me the power of a great curriculum

For the next three years I taught at a K-8 district public school in Chinatown: the Jacob Riis School, PS 126. Located in a cluster of housing projects, it was racially diverse, with Chinese students from the surrounding tenements, Black and Latino families from the projects, and white families from Tribeca. At first I was a deer in headlights, immediately struck by how calm, compliant, and high-performing my students were in comparison to students at my former school.

The school developed a competitive sports program and piloted Learning Cultures, the progressive curriculum we now use at my new school. These initiatives, along with the promise of an honors program, enticed wealthier families and created an unlikely melting pot. This mirrored a trend across the city, known as the choice movement, in which more and more families choose to send their children to schools outside of their local zip codes. Then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg supported policies for the expansion of such choice.

Students "unison reading" in a Learning Cultures classroom
Students reading in unison. (The Urban Assembly Unison School)

I knew the color of my new students’ skin or the wealth of their families could not be the sole cause of their good behavior. The reasons were more complex. Students whose families had chosen PS 126 for middle school had attended elementary schools with ample funding, giving them access to teachers who had better resources and working conditions, which meant the teachers were happier, stayed longer, developed better curricula, and became more qualified. My new students were not simply whiter and wealthier; they had more often been engaged in meaningful learning.

This strong foundation meant my students were able to approach assignments with remarkable creativity and enthusiasm. In my writing class, a sixth-grader wrote a beautiful story about his ideal fantasy world. Not only did Jake meet state standards by explaining technical aspects of his world in great detail,€” he also appointed classmates as gods of his universe and included statistics from a poll he took of his peers asking who would want to visit. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought of approaching the assignment this way, but it emerged from a community of students trying to imagine growing up together. To my delight, other students began creating their own realms and worlds. Together they could imagine a universe they wanted to live in. Lines from other students’ “worlds” included:

“Starting with plants and animals, everyone’s potential is displayed.”

“It rains simply seventy-degree rain, over only oceans and riverbeds so everyone can bathe.”

“A child chemist who lives on a nearby sun invented a serum to bring things back to life. This does not mean anyone starts nuclear war, but whatever gets destroyed you can return like new.”

This was not a Hollywood movie. This was a heterogeneous group of students in a well-funded school, with qualified teachers receiving professional development, imagining their futures.

As data from the curriculum began to show success, educators and administrators from across the country came to see Learning Cultures in action. Some swooned in delight, excited to take the practices back to their schools and classrooms. Others asked questions: Was this working for both the students who came in performing at high levels and those who came in needing remediation? To this question we could boast that our students who came in at the top third of their class outpaced the growth of their peers nationally, as did the students who entered in the lowest third.

I also remember the skeptical visitors who said things along the lines of, “It must be nice working here,” or, “If my students were like this, I’m sure this would be great too.” Like what? I wanted to retort defensively.

Working at PS 126 was so wonderful that at times it felt as if I had solved the problems of public education. Yet worries crept in. I found myself wondering: If I returned to my Teaching Fellows school armed with these new pedagogical tools, would I have greater success? I didn’t like admitting it to myself, but on some level I knew that simply changing the pedagogy would not fix everything.

With every additional day at PS 126, the dissonance grew. I felt both more fulfilled by my current teaching assignment and more concerned with the high percentage of at-risk students who needed access to experiences like this beyond the school’s walls.

The challenge began to take form in my mind. Research indicates that students need time to collaborate on complex challenges to prepare them for the 21st-century economy. Intensely segregated schools face a two-pronged challenge in attempting this. First, their students have weaker skills and knowledge. Second, their teachers are less prepared to teach and less satisfied in their jobs.

Every day I prepared for this challenge, hoping I’d be up to it when the time came.

How our new school went from dream to reality

As PS 126 test scores improved, visitors — including the Urban Assembly, a network of district public schools working to support poor students — came to see classrooms in action. When they expressed interest in proposing a new school around Learning Cultures, I immediately joined the planning team.

I wanted to return to challenges I’d faced in my first teaching assignment, challenges that still faced schools citywide.

On Monday nights, over several months, our new school planning team reported to the Office of New Schools. We were presented a challenge and given a set amount of time to come up with a mock plan and present back to a mock staff, who then evaluated our solutions, collaboration, and communications. Each week, some teams got voted off the island. The magnitude of the task before us first hit me during what I like to call the “New School” Survivor. The challenge I best remember gave us 20 minutes to plan for a rare but highly important situation: having just learned a gunman was on the third floor of the building.

[Editor’s Note: The Office of New Schools does not oversee school safety. The office of safety and youth development generates safety plans for each school and works with the NYPD in certain cases. While the DOE did not rule out the possibility of such an assignment taking place in the Office of New Schools, it was deemed uncharacteristic.]

We survived, and the Department of Education quietly informed us of our school’s location on the border of Clinton Hill and Bedford Stuyvesant the summer before it opened. These historically black neighborhoods, with brownstone-lined blocks, were undergoing rapid gentrification. From political backchannels, I also knew the Department of Education had all but officially decided that our school would phase in as the middle school on the second floor phased out. The elementary school on the first floor would remain intact. When we had a sixth grade, the middle school in this same building would be reduced to having only a seventh and eighth; when we had a sixth and seventh they would only have an eighth, and so on.

Parents from the old middle school, unaware of the likelihood of the decision, argued in vain at a hearing to keep their current community school open. My colleagues and I were the only white people who attended this deceptive ritual of a school closing hearing in the auditorium of what would come to be our school. It was presented to community members as an opportunity to support or protest the closing of the school; members did not know the decision had already been effectively made by the powers that be.

[Editor’s note: The New York City Department of Education has confirmed the basic facts of the phaseout, but says that the hearing in question was not deceptive. Rather, the Department of Education says such hearings are designed to engage parents and other community members as well as solicit their feedback. The Department says the decision to replace the old school with Unison was not finalized until after this meeting.]

Segregation spot illustration

I watched the hearing in horror. As family after family got up to speak out in protest, I watched boys from the failing school squirm in discomfort, trying to seem tough. The girls tried to laugh it off. Would we be able to do any better for those students’ younger siblings, or had our new school just become a part of the problem? Were we just going to be another set of gentrifiers? Department of Education representatives blared negative statistics over the microphone.

The representatives didn’t mention this: that the district had 14 public middle schools, 12 of which now had admissions tests. This school received students who were rejected from the other 12 schools or whose families failed to partake in the application process. Essentially, “choice” led to a highly disproportionate number of at-risk students at this school. It was one of the two remaining middle schools to receive failure ratings.

It begins

 Joe Posner
Opening day at the Unison School, 2013.

Over the spring we had the task of filling the seats for our first class. According to Mayor Bloomberg, school choice would create a virtuous circle of competition that could help us get a diverse set of students.

Tens of thousands of students – across all grade levels, throughout five boroughs, including both our most accomplished students and those who have struggled – €”are thriving today in schools that didn’t exist in 2002,” Bloomberg said in 2009. “These new schools give families more choices and create competition that makes all schools better.”

But as I see it, what the city described as competition turned into a segregation filter: Choice was only an option for those with the time, literacy, and determination to navigate a complex and nonstandardized admissions system. These are major hurdles for the most vulnerable families. The burden of their failure to navigate such a system hurt no one more than their children, who no rational person would argue should be able to manipulate this complexity at the age of 11.

People who work with low-income communities make a distinction between “organized” and “disorganized” families. Predominantly poor black and Latino families who do not advocate for their children to attend a particular school, but rather passively receive an assignment from the city that designates their kids to a highly segregated school, are considered “disorganized.”

“Organized” families, on the other hand, move mountains to have their children attend schools in districts with great PTAs. “Organized” families can pay rent or buy property in the most desirable zip codes so that their children can attend the highest-performing public schools with the most qualified teaching staff. (Public housing is minimal in high-performing zip codes.) Organized families know how to navigate charter school lotteries.

Worse yet, students whose families lacked privilege now faced schools’ “fear of failure” filter. Schools that once played the support system for students whose families struggled felt pressure to reject their applications, since schools where students didn’t show achievement and growth on state exams risked closure.

School choice advocates often argue that making growth a factor should make all schools want to accept needier students, as they have the most room to grow. But for these students, growth takes time and special care –€” which requires more teacher attention per student, which requires more funding. In District 13 (Unison’s School’s district), 25 of the 27 publicly funded schools (including charter schools) require participation in an application process.

We felt it was wrong to filter out the neediest children, but we needed to attract higher-performing students as well. So we traveled from one PTA meeting to the next, showing videos of our curriculum, promising that we would bring great academic growth and achievement. We visited the homes of many incoming sixth-graders as assigned to us on the initial list. We worked tooth and nail for parents to choose Unison.

Come fall, only 30 students from our initial roster appeared, 30 did not, and a different 50 students did, through what’s called “over the counter” entry. This is a euphemism for students whose families did not participate at the appropriate times in the application process, or were unsatisfied with their initial assignment.

After our first-day enthusiasm, the challenge before us became clear. When surveyed, most first-year Unison students had rarely worked in groups before – a setback for our collaborative curriculum. They had spent the majority of their elementary careers in rows completing worksheets every 10 minutes to prepare them for state exams, a strategy that initially helped them pass. Once tests got harder, they failed –€” even though many of them had done everything their teachers had asked of them. At best, they arrived at Unison with limited trust in the school system; at worst, they arrived angry.

In a writing class in September of our first year, a student wrote:

Living in the streets of Bed-Stuy scares the heart of a young 11 year old girl. She wakes up every night to either a gunshot, a cry for help, or to stupid people just doing stupid things. She wonders how she can get out of such a place she thinks she can’t survive. This girl has a voice but she feels as if no one is listening. Every time she has the chance to speak up she gets shut out by all of the world’s greatest demons. When she puts her trust, love, and life in someone’s hands she always gets let down. The fear in her eyes are completely noticeable but it’s as if no one ever wants to see. […] The young girl looks up in distress with her eyes full of tears. Finally, she falls into the deep river drowning her life away. She falls slowly to the bottom as a heavy anchor. Her eyes are wide open still seeing the world through shattered glass. She dies slowly saying good-bye to the world, through the eyes of a child.

Brilliant though the children were, writing like this carried warning signs that could make our progressive curriculum fail. We instituted breakfast, partnered with Citizen Schools to extend the school day to 6 pm, and tried to make our environment a safe haven for our beloved students from broken homes or no home at all.

Still, disputes crept close and sometimes entered the building. Some days fights broke out before school even started over seemingly silly social media disputes. Or a new foster home placement had gang-affiliated siblings and felt compelled to turn to his/her families for support.

To this combustible mix, we soon received our first wave of charter school runoff students. Many mornings, children accompanied by their parents would arrive at the main office — they’d been asked to leave the charter school they attended from the beginning of the school year. Such students did not seem to represent a random sample. More often than not, these students had special needs. Only 20 percent of special education students at New York City charter schools stay in their schools for three years, more than double the average attrition rate for special education students in district schools.

Unison receives students who leave charter schools twice per year. The first handful arrives just after Halloween. They typically display significant behavioral challenges and take a lot of resources to successfully integrate. If, in their first week, these students land in an argument instead of a fistfight, I consider it a win. While I cannot prove causation, the timing correlates with October 31, the date by which schools receive per-student funding for the year. Though these students become ours shortly after Halloween, we do not receive funding associated with them. Instead, the school from which they came does. Many of the schools they came from used a “no excuses” approach to behavior, popular with successful charters. Students whose behavior did not change would disrupt the charter school environment. In traditional public schools like ours, counseling students out is not an option.

We meet our second wave of charter school students in April, roughly a week before the state exams. These students do not have behavioral challenges but perform poorly on tests. Perhaps they did badly on a preparation tests and were then asked to leave. I have found no city data on these dismissals by charter schools.

This phenomenon is not Unison-specific, as the number of charter schools expanded significantly statewide. Following the 2009 recession, to qualify for Race to the Topand receive significant federal dollars, New York state agreed to lift the charter cap from 200 schools to 460. Using lotteries as a filter, charter schools inherently attract more privileged families regardless of whether counseling-out practices take place in their schools.

The question of whether charter schools are more effective than district public schools remains unanswered. At best, Unison and other public schools could learn from innovations that charter schools pilot. But the major innovations (especially in discipline and expectations policies) I can see target a different demographic. I believe that the continued practice of hyping the very best charter school test results has contributed to fearmongered test preparation becoming the prescription for district public schools, not innovation. Combined with counseling-out practices, I believe the expansion of charter schools has fostered a two-tier system hurting the most vulnerable students.

After one year, Unison’s founding principal resigned, and a first-year principal took her place. While the new principal worked valiantly alongside many dedicated new teachers to shift student achievement, it became an all-too-public joke that for our logo we used Sisyphus, onto whom the boulder rolled down and crushed.

In our second year, 2013, federal pressure finally led to the realignment of state exams to the national Common Core state learning standards. Increasing standards benefits students all across the nation, but New York state made a calamitous mistake: Schools were not provided curriculum materials about the new standards they would be tested on first.

However painful that was for us as teachers to scramble and guess how to best prepare students, it was more painful for the students. Multiple Unison students vomited during testing, and many more students succumbed to tears, fearing they would have to repeat a grade for failing a test their teachers were not prepared for.

And on the basis of these same test scores, the education department closed schools, like it had closed Unison’s own precursor. The state couldn’t leave back two-thirds of all students, so it chose to send the lowest 10 percent to summer school instead. In New York state, passing rates fell roughly from two-thirds of students across the city to one-third. Then-State Education Commissioner and future Acting Secretary of Education John King explained the change in scores in this way to the public: “These proficiency scores do not reflect a drop in performance, but rather a raising of standards to reflect college- and career-readiness in the 21st century.” That line did not go over well with my scores of students failing for the first time.

Wealthier areas of New York state started sitting out of high-stakes testing due to parent conscientious objection. The rate is now 20 percent statewide, but not for my kids. Their parents do not know to attempt this strategy, and we do not encourage it: I am loath to jeopardize my students’ already limited ability to get into high performing high schools.

As our school grew by one grade level each year, and hired a teaching staff for the additional grade, whom could we attract but new teachers? It’s a hard sell to convince teachers to take on the challenge of working with students who begin multiple grade levels behind in reading and who bring the challenges of poverty with them to school. I found myself hiring bright-eyed teachers whom I recognized immediately as the ill-prepared Teaching Fellow getting ushered too quickly into complex brain surgery. Having attended graduate schools steeped in the culture of No Child Left Behind, they came in also prepared with their worksheets and militaristic pedagogy aimed at preventing the hemorrhagic state test scores, nowhere close to teaching students how to learn and collaborate.

What does this mean for the future of integration?

 Joe Posner
Eighth-graders graduating from the Unison School, June 2015.

Three years in, our incredible students and teachers showed they could succeed in spite of systemic failures. Our inaugural class went from reading at an average second-grade level in sixth grade to an eighth-grade level by eighth grade, according to a nationally normed reading test. But these statistics do not tell the full story. Many students made significant gains, while others made little growth at all. Not every student grew how he or she could.

The fact that so many did illuminates the capacity of these children and how much potential each would bring to our world if we created a more level playing field. Current school segregation patterns point to wealthy white students who initially receive middling scores ending up far better in life than the top 10 percent of poor black students. That outcome, of course, does not remotely reflect the ability I have witnessed over and over again in needy, homeless, or previously illiterate students whose short lives have already been disrupted in multiple ways.

Segregation is not only a moral issue; it is also an economic one, because our segregated schools fail to prepare students for the new economy.

Last summer, I received emails asking me to sign a petition to convince the District 13 Community Education Council to open a new middle school in District 13. The parents argued the district needed “more middle school seats.”

Unison is a middle school in District 13. Unison is under-enrolled. We have plenty of seats available. These parents are not advocating for new seats. They are using politically correct language to advocate for wealthy white seats while attempting to not sound racist.

That said, peers and parents have continually advised me that Unison should become more selective, for the sake of the majority of students who aren’t “disruptive.” We could create an admissions test, and pass off those who will most significantly hinder our likelihood of success to another school. Fear lies behind these suggestions. Not just parents’ well-documented fear of racial integration, but a broader fear of a truly equal public system that gives privileged families fewer chances to separate their children from the poor. The neediest, most challenging students are filtered out to pockets of desperation. Few people would openly choose this, but I believe this is where the choice movement has left us.

 Eric Berg

At Unison, the staffers have dedicated themselves to giving these most vulnerable students a chance. But available data is clear that integration could do a much better job.

Neighborhood school districts can effect change too — some schools near Unison are incorporating integration as part of their founding charters. I plan to work with District 13 on similar plans as the neighborhood gentrifies. Every day on my walk to work I pass white neighborhood residents placing their children on school buses to take them out of the neighborhood.

From a wider vantage, policymakers must face the potential power of integration. State leaders need to celebrate diversity and support collaboration between Departments of Housing, Justice, Education, and Urban Development. On the national level, let us not forget Barack Obama’s first campaign, during which he gave what might be our generation’s defining speech on race:

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.

Now it’s 60 years after Brown vs. Board, and New York City is just dipping its toes into the possibility of reform. My school represents the ongoing, cavernous gap.

Focusing on only one lever — be it charter schools, pedagogy, teacher training, testing — absent integration is insufficient. Alone, they are politically expedient (and often ineffective) ways to “do something” while we avert our eyes, again, from America’s lasting racial wounds as we continue to pass those wounds down to our children.

At Unison, we will continue to try to recruit our way to integration. But the first step is always the hardest. Last year during recruiting time, a young family came through our doors to see what we’ve built and hear our pitch. The test scores are improving. The curriculum is deep and innovative — not the drill-and-kill stuff you expect near the projects. When the young, white, pigtailed fourth-grader walked into a classroom with her parents, one of our students couldn’t keep it in: “I’ve never seen somebody that looks like that before.”

 Joe Posner
The author with a parent at the Unison School.

Amy Simone Piller is a co-founder of the Urban Assembly Unison School, where she is currently the assistant principal. She has been teaching English and special education for the past nine years.




New York City: The Premiere Place For Hellacious Halloween Horrors by Brett Myers

The time of year has come when the seasons click and the New York air has forgone the summer humidity for autumn’s crispness. And once the leaves change color and jackets come out of storage, the first thing New Yorkers look forward to is Halloween. In one of the most artistically diverse cities, there’s no shortage of ways to celebrate any holiday here. However, Halloween brings out a different set of desires. Everyone enjoys a little scare this time of year and the city provides more than enough. With unlimited access to technology, creative minds, and actors, New York (in)famously houses some of the best and most horrifying haunted houses in the country. Perhaps more than ever, horror junkies can have their desires met and then some as the city’s best attractions have upped the ante this year, ensuring the most fear for your funds.

Celebrating their 10th year in operation, Blood Manor in Tribeca describes itself as “New York City’s premiere haunted attraction.” This 5,000 square foot sensory attack involves every classic piece of horror imagery one can imagine: Zombies, clowns, meat lockers, rotting skeletons, etc. All organized in an onslaught of in-your-face scares, screams, and flashing lights. Arranged in groups of six for the 20-25 minute experience, adrenaline seekers witness a calculated combination of inventive lighting design, state-of-the-art animatronics, and thoroughly decorated actors covered in fake blood, prosthetics, and colored contacts. On top of all this modern technology, the Manor utilizes old fashioned images like smoke machines, pitch black darkness, and mysterious sounds to top off all of its abrasive horror to bring New Yorkers a classic yet highly effective Halloween experience.

To keep the city guessing, Blood Manor adds new themes, known as “chambers” according to their website, every year to torment fears of all kinds. This year, patrons can expect mummies, doll people, maggots, and cannibals on top of the Manor’s famous collection of horrors. Additionally, each Thursday during their entire run will be known as Touch Me Thursdays where the actors are free to touch the customers (to an extent), adding a new layer of fear and immersion. Along with student discount nights and shorter waiting times, there’s no reason to skip on experiencing one of the biggest frights the city has to offer. Just make sure not to do it alone!

Blackout Haunted House has caused quite a stir these past few years with their ingenious take on what haunted houses can do. Located in Chelsea, Blackout passes on the buckets of blood and overwhelming effects of traditional haunted attractions and, instead, employs minimal décor and realistic situations to scare horror lovers in search of something new. And, boy, do they get something new! Past versions forced their willing victims to go through the warehouse alone, already breaking ground and grabbing the public’s attention/fear. What happens inside can be described as less of a haunted house and more as an immersive and horrific piece of theater. One year infamously involved patrons being fake waterboarded with a bag over their head and forced to bark like a dog to be released. Additionally, rumors spread like wildfire of the actors making them chew on used tampons and saving an actor from being sexually assaulted.

Of course, all of these events have been heavily rehearsed and involved fake props, but their realism really struck a nerve with New Yorkers. In fact, the creators, Josh Randall and Kristjan Thor, have reported their horrified customers running out of the house and almost into the street to get away from their attackers. This year’s edition, Blackout: House, forgoes the solitary experience for a group of one, but they’ve maintained their surreal reputation to replicate the feeling of being held hostage. With several years of success under its sleeve and another location in Los Angeles, Blackout has proved itself a formidable attraction every Halloween and those looking for a truly surreal experience ought to look no further.

For 11 seasons, New Yorkers have been treated to the demented attraction that is the haunted house Nightmare. Coming off two critically acclaimed seasons (Killers and Killers2), the creators of the city’s longest running haunted attraction have tackled the challenge of topping their numerous, past successes. However, this year’s edition has caused quite a stir as it gives thrill seekers an experience that may or may not hit a little too close to home. This year’s season is known as Nightmare: New York and it makes use of all the horrific legends and mythology that haunt this mysterious city. Not only will the citizens of New York witness classic legends such as Cropsey and sewer alligators, but also newer folklore like giant rats caused by Hurricane Sandy’s damage to the subway system will come to life.

In just about 25-minutes tops, patrons will start from New York’s beginnings as cursed Native American property and continue into the many killers and curses that hang over this town, a majority of which most citizens haven’t heard of yet. And, for an extra layer of immersion, those brave enough can ask to be marked with a red “X,” telling the actors that they’re allowed to get even more up close and personal with those adorned with the marking. With an eye for detail and grotesque realism, creator Timothy Haskell has promised to turn the things that make this city great, such as being immersed in history one couldn’t image, into an absolute nightmare.

If you think you’re brave enough, grab a friend, keep your eyes peeled, and head downtown for some of the best frights the city has to offer. No matter what scares you, be it blood and guts or realistic fears, you’ll be sure to find it in the concrete jungle. The question is, though, are you ready to find what the concrete jungle has for you? Happy Halloween!

Where Is Home? by Dani.Love

Where Is Home?

Is it where you grew up?
Where your family resides?
Where you’ve lived the longest?
Where you currently lay your head every night?

Where is home?

This is something I have been asking myself lately.

I’m turning 30 in about 7 months and I have never felt so lost as to who I am and what I want out of life, and this has left me feeling a bit alone. And the ghost of alone-ness lingering about has me questioning where I belong and asking myself “where is home?”

I was born and raised in DC and for most of my life that is all I knew. I’ve never really been outside of the DC area, with the exception of one summer when I was about 8 years old and I spent the whole summer with my aunt whose husband was stationed in Kansas. Then, I went to undergrad about 3 hours away from DC (if that counts). Growing up, I’ve always dreamed of traveling the world and living in different cities before I “settled down”. Since I’ve often felt out of place inside the home I grew up in, my daydreams became my home. My fantasies, books, music, and writing spaces were my safety nets that got me through adolescence and young adulthood. By the time I graduated undergrad with a degree in Psychology, I had no clue what I wanted to do. So I moved back to the home I grew up in, all the while fantasizing about a new place I wanted to call home. At the time, New York, San Francisco, and Toronto were consistent destination choices. Several months later, I decided to move to NYC. A few months after that, Brooklyn was my new home.

Six years later, I’m still in NYC. It could be easily assumed that life in the Big Apple has been great. However, now that I reflect on it, it was my choice to finally decide on something independent of others expectations and desires for me,that was great. And it was the energy I felt when I moved to NY, which was birthed through my decision to move that was great. I felt free, independent, happy, and like I could finally live a life for me, on my terms. Many have said, they haven’t seen me as happy in a while… and I will admit, they were right. I haven’t been as happy and free. That feeling eventually wore off.

While most people said I was brave for up and moving to a place where I knew no one and where I had no job or plan, I didn’t feel brave because I wasn’t scared. It was an easy transition that I felt was necessary for me to finally breathe.

I fell in love with my apartment (which I still reside in 6 years later) and it instantly became my new home. I still feel so at home inside of my little Brooklyn apartment. I feel safe, comfortable, and free to be all shades of me. Part of me still feels like NY is my home, while most of me feels out of place. And again, it has me wondering “where is home?”

When I sit and really reflect on it, I’ve come to realize that it’s me that’s not at home within myself. I’m not completely comfortable with who I am yet. Perhaps because I do not really know who I am. Or I don’t fully embrace who I presently am. In either case, regardless of where I move or what occupation I change to, if I’m not comfortable with the person I am, I will continue to feel out of place, eventually. Realizing how much effort I’ve put on external things (i.e. moving, going to grad school, and mending old friendships) and how very little I’ve done internally, leaves me feeling……I’m not sure there are words to describe it. Perhaps disappointed, saddened, hurt, and even scared of the realization that I have so much internal work to do. All of the work and things I’ve done since moving to NYC in 2007, which I thought was for the best, have actually pushed me farther away from many of the personal goals I’d had upon moving. They have made me more of a prisoner inside myself. So, I suppose the real question is: How do I release myself from myself while truly opening up my heart, mind, and soul to embrace the present me and truly live comfortably and freely within myself and authentically outside myself (that’s a loaded question, eh?)

Where is home?

While DC will always be the home city I grew up in and a place I can always go back to. Home is wherever you choose it to be. For me, home lies within me. When I’m comfortable with who I am and am authentic in all I do, I can ultimately feel at home anywhere I am.

I hope wherever you are during the holiday season, you feel at home.

Happy Holidays with love, hot caramel mocha, and sweet potato pie,



Leap of Faith by Dani.Love

A lot of things, specifically those things we fear or are uncomfortable with, seem easier said than done. And most of those things, when done, weren’t nearly as bad as we presumed them to be.

Taking a leap of faith with love or your career or anything for that matter can be quite daunting. But imagine your life if you never just took a chance. That, to me, is most frightening.

Most of us, when we want something, we often wait for some perfect moment or obsessively plan till so much time has passed or other things have come up that the thing we wanted sort of just vanishes from our list of priorities.

Take a moment to think about the last 5 years of your life. How many goals or things you said you were going to do that you didn’t finish or simply didn’t do at all?

I will disclose 5 things I haven’t done in the past 5 years.

  1. TRAVEL >> Why? Because I’ve been waiting on a certain amount of money to be in my account.
  2. TAKE COURSES (baking, writing, film) >> Why? Because I didn’t make the time and felt I should save my money for something else until I have more saved.
  3. MAKE NEW FRIENDS >> Why? Because I just haven’t put any effort into it. I’m truly a homebody and enjoy quiet moments alone.
  4. NETWORK >> Why? Because I tell myself I’m quite shy and it begins to feel so exhausting to put effort into such a socially charged activity.
  5. START A BLOG >> Why? Because I tell myself I’m not an experienced enough writer, I’m not good enough, no one will embrace it, and I have no focus (and feel I need a focus to start a blog).

The things we tell ourselves that prevent us from LIVING!

On a successful note, I took a leap of faith two weeks ago. And though, right now, I feel the fear of the unknown that this leap of faith has brought on, I am totally happy that I FINALLY did it.

I quit my job. Nothing lined up, no potential jobs or income resources. And, I live in NYC, whose rent in and of itself can be quite daunting!

I was unhappy for at least 18 months of the 26 months I was at the job. I kept waiting for the perfect moment to leave. Specifically, at first, I was waiting for the perfect job to come along. Then, it was for a certain amount of money to be saved.  I kept telling myself I needed to “be smart” about my exit. Until one day, an event occurred and I decided in that moment “I don’t want or need this in my life. It isn’t aligned with ANYTHING I want for myself.”  I quit without hesitation or fear and the most miraculous thing occurred when the words left my mouth.

I felt free. Literally, it felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. For the rest of the workday, I finished any assignments I was still working on and cleaned my work area; and I did it with glee. I was cheerful and in those final hours of my final day at the job I was unhappy with for at least 18 months, money wasn’t a concern, how I was going to pay off my $86,000 graduate loan or overpriced NYC rent was no longer any concern of mine. Instead, I was filled with gratitude and fulfillment.

I was grateful for the opportunities the free time I now have will provide me. I can work on the writing projects I was always too tired to do after leaving work. I could use the free time to explore career options and truly decide what it is I want to do. I could finally declutter my apartment and just relax, something that I haven’t done for an extended period in YEARS.

I was satisfied that I finally did something that I wanted to do for over a year. I was proud of myself for being ballsy enough to <TAKE A LEAP OF FAITH>, believing that the Universe will catch me and I will be provided for.

It’s scary, indeed. But I am finally becoming reacquainted with the Unknown. So far, it has welcomed me with open arms.

Today, where can you take a leap of faith? What are you waiting for?

With confidence, encouragement, strength, and support,



Wanderlust Wednesday – Son Doong Cave in Vietnam

There is a cave with a jungle inside of it, go figure. And now you can view this magical wonder and many others, but be prepared to wait. The Son Doon Cave in Vietnam is being opened to visitors, for the first time in like ever, in 2014 but all who are interested in seeing these majestic wonders must apply for a permit. Be warned my friends, these permits are going quickly. Seems exciting, group trip anyone? Here is the full article from Grind TV. Enjoy.

Source: http://www.grindtv.com/outdoor/excursions/post/son-doong-cave-in-vietnam-is-a-spelunking-paradise/

Hope and vision passage Howard Limbert

Hope and vision passage; photo by Howard Limbert

Spelunkers from around the world are going to want to get in on this, and they’d better hurry. Only 220 permits for tourists are available in 2014 for the privilege to explore the Son Doong Cave in Vietnam, and those are almost gone.

What’s all the excitement about?

The newly discovered Hang Son Doong offers characteristics that are spectacular, enormous, dynamic, and, for a spelunker (aka a cave explorer), heaven.

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Photo from Oxalis Adventure Tours Facebook page

A river, rainforest, towering stalagmites, and a 262-foot rappel into the entrance are among the features, along with rooms big enough to house a 747 and passages that could fit an entire New York City block of 40-story buildings.

First discovered by a local man in 1991, the 5 1/2-mile-long cave was rediscovered in 2009 by British cavers who made up the first expedition. Pilot expeditions have been undertaken and now the Oxalis Adventure Tours are booking tours for the public.

The Son Doong Cave, located in the Quang Binh province in the rugged Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park near the border of Laos, is being touted as the largest cave in the world, though that is debatable.

According to Mark Jenkins, who wrote about the Son Doong Cave for National Geographic, the Mammoth Cave system in Kentucky is longer at 367 total miles and the Krubera-Voronja Cave in the country of Georgia is deeper at 7,188 feet.

“But for giant passages, there are few caves that can compare,” Jenkins wrote. “At the time of the Limberts’ discovery of Hang Son Doong, the largest passage was thought to be Deer Cave in Malaysian Borneo’s Gunung Mulu National Park, which was recently surveyed at 1.2 miles long, 500 feet wide, and 400 feet tall. But as the explorers would eventually determine, using precise laser instruments, Hang Son Doong is more than 2.5 miles long with a continuous passage as wide as 300 feet and, in places, over 600 feet high.”

Hang Son Doong Cave means “mountain river cave.” According to the Son Doong Cave website, “It was created 2 to 5 million years ago by river water eroding away the limestone underneath the mountain. Where the limestone was weak, the ceiling collapsed, creating huge skylights.”

In a word, awesome.

Spelunking doesn’t get better than this. Take a look at what cave explorers can expect to see, courtesy of Son Doong Cave and Oxalis Adventure Tours:

Ryan Deboodt 2

Photo by Ryan DeBoodt

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Photo by Ryan Deboodt

Adam Spillane

Photo by Adam Spillane

5- Australian Ben Mitchell in Second Cave Jungle (Simon-Dunne)

Australian Ben Mitchell in second cave jungle; photo by Simon-Dunne

Ryan DeBoodt5

Cave river; photo by Ryan DeBoodt

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Cave pearls; photo by Ryan Deboodt

oxalis adventure tour FB… looking out to garden of edam-doline3 hang son doong

Looking out of Garden of Edam; photo from Oxalis Adventure Tours Facebook page

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Photo by Ryan DeBoodt

oxalis adventure tours fb page….hang son doong, watch out the dinosaur

Photo from Oxalis Adventure Tours Facebook page

2- Amazing Jungle Inside Cave (Ryan Deboodt)

Amazing jungle inside cave; photo by Ryan Deboodt

Wanderlust Wednesday: Jamaica

Welcome to Wanderlust Wednesday! Today we turn our attentions to the Caribbean island of Jamaica.

With 2.8 million people on this island of 10,990 square kilometers, Jamaica is the third most populated English-speaking country in the Americas. Originally colonized by the Spanish, the formally named Santiago was taken over by Great Britain in 1655. Jamaica gained its independence from Great Britain on August 6, 1962.

Home to various popular music genres including reggae, ska, mento, rocksteady, and dub, Jamaica possess a rich cultural heritage. Reggae, probably the most popular genre of music from Jamaica, its popularity has traversed the boundaries of the island and become an international sensation. For this Wanderlust Wednesday we enjoy the international appeal of reggae and the beautiful scenery of Jamaica.

Snorkeling in Long Bay
Bamboo Avenue
Blue Mountains
Progress for LGBT Rights in Jamaica – Jamaica’s First Lesbian Wedding
Dunn’s River Falls
Sandbar Bar
Ocho Rios
Pawpaw Trees







TED Talk Tuesday: Angela Lee Duckworth: The key to success? Grit

I know I have to work on my grit. Follow through is not easy for anyone, especially in this fast-paced culture. In this interesting talk, Dr. Lee Duckworth talks about the significance of “Grit” in education and life. Sticking with something longterm is not easy in our modern culture, it is so easy to find something new or shift to something easier. Long term commitment is not encouraged, but Dr. Lee Duckworth explores its role in success both in school and life.


Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

” What I do know is that talent doesn’t make you gritty. Our data show very clearly that there are many talented individuals who simply do not follow through on their commitments. In fact, in our data, grit is usually unrelated or even inversely related to measures of talent.

Introducing Alyson Mar – Content Strategist

A warm and excited welcome to Alyson Mar! Alyson will be serving as Content Strategist for Minus The Box, helping to build a more user-friendly and engaging site. Below is her biography. Looking forward to working with her.

Alyson, originally from Seattle, is a fourth-year student at The New School in New York City, double-majoring in Design & Technology and Environmental Studies. She enjoys drawing and hunting for the best food in the city.


Wanderlust Wednesday: Wanderlust Festival

While preparing for this post I made an unexpected yet pleasant discovery, the Wanderlust Festival!

The website describes the festival as “Wanderlust Festival is the largest celebration of its kind in the world: a 4-day celebration of yoga, music, and nature. Bringing together thousands of people from myriad backgrounds to experience adventure and transformation, Wanderlust provides the opportunity to bring your yoga practice to new heights, to enjoy the freedom of live music and to follow your spirit of adventure in spectacular outdoor settings, all the while creating community with like-minded seekers.”  Sounds like fun!  How exciting that something like this available to people across the globe for FREE!!

My wanderlust lead me to this site and I hope your wanderlust leads you to something as equally awesome.

Here is the website: Wanderlust Festival

The remaining festivals will be held in the following cities:

June 20 – June 23, 2013
Stratton Mountain
Bondville, VT, USA
July 4 – July 7, 2013
Copper Mountain Resort
Copper, CO, USA
July 18 – July 21, 2013
Squaw Valley
North Lake Tahoe, CA, USA
August 1 – August 4, 2013
Whistler Resort
Whistler, BC, Canada
August 23 – August 25, 2013
Mont-Tremblant, QC, CAN

The organization also hosts one day “In The City” events. Still to come:

June 9, 2013
Pier 63 – Hudson River Park
New York City, NY, USA
June 30, 2013
Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica, CA, USA


OMG!! This festival seems like so much fun! If you happen to attend, please share your thoughts and photos of the event.

Wanderlust Wednesday: Read Read Read

A book can do many things, but its greatest power is teleportation. Being engaged in a great novel can transport you in time and space. Here is an interesting list of 65 books you must read in your 20s (according to BuzzFeed). Hope this list sparks your wanderlust urge.


1. The Emperor’s Children, by Claire Messud

2. What She Saw…, by Lucinda Rosenfeld

3. The Deptford Trilogy, by Robertson Davies

4. The Secret History, by Donna Tartt

5. Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin

6. A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan

7. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz

8. Lucy, by Jamaica Kincaid

9. The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy

10. White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

11. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon

12. Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace

13. Bright Lights, Big City, by Jay McInerney

14. The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri

15. Call Me by Your Name, by André Aciman

16. The Rachel Papers, by Martin Amis

17. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison

18. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway

19. Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

20. A Home at the End of the World, by Michael Cunningham

21. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman

22. The Group, by Mary McCarthy

23. Quicksand and Passing, by Nella Larsen

24. Pastoralia, by George Saunders

25. Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

26. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers

27. The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath

28. Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis

29. His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman

30. Generation X, by Douglas Coupland

31. The Fortress of Solitude, by Jonathan Lethem

32. Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson

33. I Love Dick, by Chris Kraus

34. On the Road, by Jack Kerouac

35. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, by Tom Robbins

36. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, by Haruki Murakami

37. Bossypants, by Tina Fey

38. Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain

39. How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, by Toby Young

40. The Dirt, by Mötley Crüe and Neil Strauss

41. Lunar Park, by Bret Easton Ellis

42. Just Kids, by Patti Smith

43. Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, by Nick Flynn

44. Oh the Glory of it All, by Sean Wilsey

45. I Don’t Care About Your Band, by Julie Klausner

46. Wild, by Cheryl Strayed

47. Lit, by Mary Karr

48. I’m with the Band, by Pamela Des Barres

49. Dear Diary, by Lesley Arfin

50. The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton, by Anne Sexton

51. Actual Air, by David Berman

52. The Collected Poems of Kenneth Koch, by Kenneth Koch

53. Alien vs. Predator, by Michael Robbins

54. The Collected Poems of Audre Lord, by Audre Lord

55. Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris

56. How to Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran

57. My Misspent Youth, by Meghan Daum

58. Slouching Towards Bethlehem, by Joan Didion

59. Up in the Old Hotel, by Joseph Mitchell

60. How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman

61. How’s Your Drink?, by Eric Felten

62. The Elements of Style, by Strunk & White

63. Letters to a Young Contrarian, by Christopher Hitchens

64. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards

65. He’s Just Not That Into You, by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo