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Michelle Kuo’s “Reading With Patrick” Smashes Predictable White-Savior Tropes In The Classroom

Michelle Kuo, the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, describes herself as a shy child growing up in western Michigan who rarely raised her hand in class. But her first book, a memoir called “Reading with Patrick,” has captured the accolades of two men who think deeply about education:

  • James Forman, who teaches at Yale Law School and is the author of this year’s “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America.”
  • Arthur Evenchik, who coordinates the Emerging Scholars program at Case Western Reserve University

Evenchik and Forman have posted a 2,500-word book review on The Atlantic website, concluding, “in all of the literature addressing education, race, poverty, and criminal justice, there has been nothing quite like ‘Reading with Patrick.’”

Patrick is Patrick Browning, an eighth-grader in the Arkansas Delta when Kuo, newly graduated from Harvard, showed up in the front of his class. The 22-year-old, a Teach for America instructor, was profoundly out-of-her depth but recognized in the often-absent teenager a sensitive and astute learner.

But instead of the laughable tropes — think Michelle Pfeiffer in the ridiculous film “Dangerous Minds” – Kuo finds a way to tell her truth alongside that of Browning, who was charged with murder while she was earning a law degree. Kuo returned south to spend seven months visiting Browning each day in jail, where they read Walt Whitman, Rita Dove, Derek Walcott and Frederick Douglass.

“In her penetrating, haunting memoir, ‘Reading with Patrick: A Teacher, a Student, and a Life-Changing Friendship,’ she confronts all the difficult questions that the teacher-as-savior genre claims to have answered, and especially this one: What difference can a teacher actually make?” write Forman and Evenchik.

The answer – and this review – makes a potent case for this new work.

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