Dr. Christine Montross's upcoming book, Waiting for an Echo: The Madness of American Incarceration, tackles some very adult material, but it also deals with justice, oppression, and other topics that Gordon students engage with, in age-appropriate ways, at every grade level.
Dr. Montross is a parent of two Gordon students, and she shared this reflection on the experience of researching her book while her children were studying parallel topics at Gordon:
Writing my book about mental illness and the criminal legal system was a years-long process that began when my children were very young, and ended when my eldest was a Gordon eighth grader.
Across the school's grade levels, Gordon students engage in a rigorous, age-appropriate study of our nation's social justice movements and the injustices that have given rise to them. The questions that my children asked me about my book when they were in the Lower School ("If not all people who are in prison are bad people, then why do we put them in a bad place?") were excellent questions, fueled by Gordon's climate of investigation among even the earliest learners.
By the time they were in Middle School, my kids and their classmates had a clearly established foundation of knowledge about mass incarceration and the racial and economic structures that had fueled its rise. They were now thinking hard about how justice in our country might be enacted differently to reflect their ethics and ideals, and how they could actively participate in bringing about that change. They were preparing to visit the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Equal Justice Initiative on the annual eighth grade Civil Rights Trip.
I visited Middle School classrooms to talk about my research, and the questions they asked of me these years later were different, and more specific, but no less compelling. "How would our system of public defenders need to change in order to ensure fair representation for people who cannot afford lawyers?" one student asked me. "Why do we still allow plea bargains if they encourage people to plead guilty to crimes they have not committed?" asked another. These were not simple questions. They were the very issues I was investigating in my book.
Guided by excellent, passionate, creative teachers, and held at all times in a space of respectful engagement, the Gordon students were diving deeply into the most difficult, most pressing problems of our time. In doing so, they challenged me. They challenged their teachers. They challenged each other. And they challenged themselves.
Waiting for an Echo: The Madness of American Incarceration will be published July 21st. It has been named to best-books-of-July lists in the New York Times and Time Magazine, and Dave Davies's interview with Dr. Montross aired on NPR's Fresh Air on July 16th.