Book Review: War Anthem by Keith Andrew Perry

War AnthemWar Anthem by Keith Andrew Perry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

War Anthem, A Review

From the evocative use of language to the stirring plot, this novel provides an insightful analysis of human behavior and politics.

The rich emotional life of the main character, Jason Diggs, is the backdrop for a description of historical events few have known of before now. From the rise of Washington, D.C.’s Black intellectual class to the development and implementation of DC Home Rule, the writer, Washington, DC lawyer Keith Perry, chronicles the dazzling changes which occurred in Washington from the late 1950’s to the present time.

War Anthem takes an unblinking look at the superficial value systems and shortcomings of the Black middle class, much like E. Franklin Frazier’s Black Bourgeoisie. However, Mr. Perry also makes a largely positive and optimistic critical analysis of the way in which unique challenges and opportunities were confronted by Black Washingtonians.

Many DC political figures will recognize themselves on the pages of War Anthem. From the late Dave Clark and Walter Washington to Marion Barry, the personalities and behavior patterns of well-known individuals are clearly described. Without exception the writer treats individuals characters with respect and kind detachment.

Like all good literature, War Anthem tells more than one story. This book is a beautifully-written memoir about coming of age in Washington, D.C. as a fully conscious, self-aware Black male who understands the leadership responsibilities placed on gifted individuals.

“I understood how death changes both the future and our understanding of the past.

Gray images flashed before me of mother’s heroism during her illness and I considered the vacuum she was leaving behind. Had I been a weaker man, I might have passed through this time immune to my suffering, spurred by some grief induced amnesia; but like my mother, it was my privilege to consciously endure.”

Mr. Perry amplifies many archetypal themes in War Anthem, and in so doing provides a great service for us all. His achievement in this book is that he has woven a magnificent human tale regarding rites of passage and manhood with a story of political intrigue and municipal history. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and I most assuredly recommend it as a piece of literature which I suspect will soon be required reading for young men matriculating through colleges all over the world.

Julianne Robertson King

When Disrespect is the Status Quo

I admit it, I’m fascinated by the national celebrity status recently conferred on DC School Chancellor Michelle Rhee. With the powerful Oprah Winfrey media machine and the blessing of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, she appears headed for an illustrious career as the national poster girl for educational reform.

There’s only one problem:

The objectively quantifiable data shows that her efforts have hurt student progress in District of Columbia Public Schools.

Math Proficiency Scores:

-14 schools are worse off in 2010 than in 2007 with declines as high as 25% and an average of 8%
-41 schools are worse off in 2010 than in 2008, with declines as high as 35% and an average of 11%
-61 schools (52% of all schools) are worse off in 2010 than in 2009, with declines as high as 30% and an average of 10%

Reading Proficiency Scores:

-40 schools are worse off in 2010 than in 2007, with declines as high as 45% and an average of 6%
-58 schools are worse off in 2010 than in 2008, with declines as high as 36% and an average if 9%
-66 schools (56% of all schools) are worse off in 2010 than in 2009, with declines as high as 41% and an average of 9%

(source withheld)

Other performance facts:

-AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) under Leave no Child Behind, results for DCPS: 10 schools achieved AYP in 2010 a 70% decrease from 2009, when 34 achieved AYP.

-The achievement gap between White and African-American 4th grade students for Math has increased to a 58 point gap in 2009 from a 53 point gap in 2007.

-DCPS tested 14% fewer African-America children in 2009 indicating that many African-American families are leaving DCPS for charter or private schools.

-Since 2007 DC School construction shows favoritism toward Wards 2 and 3, where outlays average between $118 and $152 per sq. ft. compared to Wards 7 and 8 where expenditures drop between $40 and $54 per sq. ft.

(source withheld)

The truth is that systemic educational reform is holistic in nature. The history, economic development, and social structure of the student population has to be accommodated before lasting change occurs.

Positive educational outcomes for all children require analysis of the learning styles, and teaching strategies that work best for each demographic group. I strongly urge that educators study a focus group created by DCPS in the 1970’s called The Innovation Team, which was formed to study the challenges and opportunities specific to Urban education.

Washington, D.C. was decimated by the crack and gun wars of the 1980’s and 90’s, and some of those lost were among our most vibrant, creative and intellectually curious. Domestic and educational policy of the Reagan Bush years has had the effect of stifling the momentum of the 1970’s as related to Black consciousness and upward mobility. The collective psychological development of the Black community is diminished as a result. The children we see in the classroom today are essentially postwar survivors, yet we haven’t developed a plan that faces that excruciating truth. The sick joke is to send Rhee here, to insult and demean and blame our community for failing to effectively protect our young people.

If Oprah cares, and I believe she might, if properly informed, she needs to focus, not on personalities and style and money, but on history. Refugee and post-war children around the world have to be nurtured in a very focused way to be returned to their natural brilliance.