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The education system gets On The Same Page Cincinnati

By Richard Hunt · February 26th, 2003 · The Fine Print

Fine Print seldom gets to carry breaking news. There's no recently discovered alternative ending to Cat in the Hat to trump, nor any case of forgery with Catcher in the Rye. No scandal, no expose, no 36-point headlines. So it's a double treat being able to help announce this year's On the Same Page selection as well as herald an exceptional piece of fiction. Oh my, I better get right to it. Otherwise, all this rapid breathing will make me woozy.

There could not be a finer book upon which to center a Cincinnati-wide reading and discussion than Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools. It comes in the wake of the school levy's bitter defeat in November and, more importantly, in light of the sub-par schooling provided in our city schools. It needs to be pointed out that valiant, if not heroic efforts are being made by schoolteachers to reverse this tide. They're bedeviled by not having an administrative foundation to support them nor having any official in public and city government to champion their cause.

Kozol has made a career of spotlighting social causes. His wise insights paint an emotional picture of distress and need as our nation's schools are literally falling apart. His understated lacerations of inept public officials make the indignity and injustice heaped upon the victims/students that much more intolerable. Kozol rails on the side of right across his body of work, picking up on precepts laid out by this country's humanistic, visionary leaders.

The reader can't help but feel an overwhelming call to action by the book's conclusion, which coincidentally is narrated as the author stands overlooking the Ohio River from Lower Price Hill. The poignancy of this final setting is only too apropos since, if he were to stand there today, he'd see Paul Brown Stadium. It's critical to re-iterate that if all the taxpayers' money which went to building the home of the world-class Bengals had gone to public education instead, there would have been enough to raze and rebuild each and every elementary, junior high and high school in the city ... and give every teacher in the system a raise to boot.

Kozol quietly underlines why it's such a damn shame to mix education with politics, high ideals with dirty deals, morals with immorals, teachers and counselors and principals with lobbyists and back-slapping, scratching and other exhibits of political patronage. I'm sorry if my politics are showing, but when current snafus keep this city's kids from getting a fair chance, the only use I find for politics is in transition to the next book.

Big If is a wild, rich stew of great characters and a wholly imaginative setting and story line. An atheist insurance man. His daughter who joins the Secret Service as bodyguard to the vice president. Her brother, the quiet, obsessive, video-game creator.

Where author Mark Costello came up with this blend of backgrounds and vocations, I don't know, but I hope he hurries up with more. These characters are so vividly and humanistically rendered that you'd swear you bumped into them at the grocery store.

What will keep you racing through the pages is the metaphoric train wreck that happens when the primaries steam into New Hampshire bringing Vi, the Secret Service agent, and her team back to her hometown. The dark cyber universe that Jens, her brother, has created, suddenly looks more real, and less vicious, than the scenarios spun out by the protection detail. Toss in a natural disaster or two en route, add a liberal dose of human hormones and long-simmering sibling rivalry for parental affection. Boom! The Big If (which doubles as the name of the software company) is no longer an imaginary possibility ... instead, it's right here, right now, right away.

Big If was justly a finalist for the National Book Award. Many people thought it should have won. Treat yourself to a copy to decide for yourself. It will have you thinking, and talking, about it for weeks, maybe even months, to come.



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