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The story begins on September 12, 2001. It reads like a novel. But the characters in award-winning journalist Steven Brill's America are real. They don't have all the answers or all the virtues of fictional heroes. It is because they are so human -- so much like the rest of us -- that makes the way they rise to the challenge of September 12 such an inspiring story about how America really works. A Customs inspector somehow has to guard against a nuclear bomb that could be hidden in one of the thousands of cargo containers from all over the world sitting on his dock in New York harbor. A young woman in New Jersey, suddenly widowed with three young children, doesn't know how to get the keys to her husband's car, much less how she can challenge the head of a federal victims' fund. An entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, who makes machines that screen luggage for bombs, can't decide if this crisis is an opportunity he should seize. Attorney General John Ashcroft has no idea how to find the new, hidden enemy living among us. The young, just-hired director of the American Civil Liberties Union wonders how he can keep Ashcroft from going too far. The CEO of a giant insurer has to decide whether to risk economic panic by not paying damage claims that he might legally be able to avoid. Red Cross President Bernadine Healy has to figure out how to collect and allocate donations while dodging a hostile board of directors. Career civil servant Gale Rossides has to recruit and train the largest workforce ever hired by the government -- the new airport passenger screeners. A proprietor of a shoe repair shop -- helped by two young women, pro bono lawyers -- has to rebuild a business buried in the rubble of Ground Zero. A Detroit Border Patrol agent -- whose bosses want to fire him for speaking out about how unprotected his stretch of border is -- has to choose whether to risk his family's livelihood by sounding the alarm. Tom Ridge has to run through a bureaucratic wall to mount a true homeland security defense. Drawing on 347 on-the-record interviews and revelations from memos of government meetings, court filings, and other documents, Brill gives us a front-row seat as these and other players in this real-life drama cross paths in a series of alliances and confrontations and fight for their own interests and their version of the public interest. The result is a gritty story -- and trailblazing journalism -- that inspires us not because these Americans or their country are perfect, but because they were tough enough, anchored enough, and living in a system that encouraged and enabled them to meet the awesome challenges they faced.
In a reporting tour de force, award-winning journalist Steven Brill takes an uncompromising look at the adults who are fighting over America's failure to educate its children--and points the way to reversing that failure. Brill's vivid narrative--filled with unexpected twists and turns--takes us from the Oval Office, where President Obama signs off on an unprecedented plan that will infuriate the teachers' unions because it offers billions to states that win an education reform "contest"; to boisterous assemblies, where parents join the fight over their children's schools; to a Fifth Avenue apartment, where billionaires plan a secret fund to promote school reform; to a Colorado high school, where students who seemed destined to fail are instead propelled to college; to state capitols across the country, where school reformers hoping to win Obama's "contest" push bills that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. It's the story of an unlikely army--fed-up public school parents, Ivy League idealists, hedge-funders, civil rights activists, conservative Republicans, insurgent Democrats--squaring off against unions that the reformers claim are protecting a system that works for the adults but victimizes the children. Class Warfare is filled with extraordinary people taking extraordinary paths: a young woman who goes into teaching almost by accident, then becomes so talented and driven that fighting burnout becomes her biggest challenge; an antitrust lawyer who almost brought down Bill Gates's Microsoft and now forms a partnership with Bill and Melinda Gates to overhaul New York's schools; a naïve Princeton student who launches an army of school reformers with her senior thesis; a California teachers' union lobbyist who becomes the mayor of Los Angeles and then the union's prime antagonist; a stubborn young teacher who, as a child growing up on Park Avenue, had been assumed to be learning disabled but ends up co-founding the nation's most successful charter schools; and an anguished national union leader who walks a tightrope between compromising enough to save her union and giving in so much that her members will throw her out. Brill not only takes us inside their roller-coaster battles, he also concludes with a surprising prescription for what it will take from both sides to put the American dream back in America's schools.
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