Harvard Graduate School of Education Logo

Give back to HGSE and support the next generation of passionate educators and innovative leaders.

Summer 2012

Books: No Citizen Left Behind

No Citizen Left BehindWhich of the following best identifies Kurt Cobain: lead singer of the band Nirvana or five-time winner of Wimbledon? Easy, right? Not for the students of Walden Middle School, an all-black, low-income, urban public school where Associate Professor Meira Levinson taught for several years. And in her latest book, No Citizen Left Behind, Levinson argues that these students are not alone. As the number of schools serving poor, urban, de facto segregated populations is steadily increasing, more and more students are deprived of exposure to "mainstream" or "dominant" cultural capital.

According to Levinson, it is this kind of knowledge that is empowering, especially given the unequal distribution of economic, political, and cultural power in the United States. But it goes deeper than that. When it comes to school reform, a current wave of rhetoric and recent changes in federal education policy, including the No Child Left Behind Act, have put the spotlight on the academic achievement gap. However, Levinson warns, the civic empowerment gap is equally important. The failure of schools to prepare students to exercise basic rights as citizens is depriving them of the knowledge and skills to redefine power relations through public, political, and civic action.

Drawing on her experiences as a political theorist, an urban middle school teacher, and an education scholar, Levinson investigates the widening civic empowerment gap and offers ideas on how to close it. Each chapter begins with a short anecdote from her personal experiences in the classroom, followed by relevant commentary, ideas, and suggestions. Not only does this place concrete examples within a larger context, but it also provides readers with valuable lessons and tangible insight that sketch a blueprint for an ideal civic education.

In No Citizen Left Behind, Levinson argues that a truly egalitarian society starts with civic empowerment both in and out of the classroom. More than just tweaking the curriculum, schools should seek to exemplify the democratic process that most inner-city children rarely have the opportunity to witness firsthand.

"Democratic governance relies on participatory citizens," Levinson writes. "Therefore, the civic empowerment gap harms all Americans because it weakens the quality and integrity of our democracy."