When Huston Diehl began teaching a fourth-grade class in a "Negro" elementary school in rural Louisa County, Virginia, the school's white superintendent assured her that he didn't expect her to teach "those children" anything. She soon discovered how these low expectations, widely shared by the white community, impeded her students' ability to learn. With its overcrowded classrooms, poorly trained teachers, empty bookshelves, and meager supplies, her segregated school was vastly inferior to the county's white elementary schools, and the message it sent her students was clear: "dream not of other worlds."
In her often lyrical memoir, Diehl reveals how, in the intimacy of the classroom, her students reached out to her, a young white northerner, and shared their fears, anxieties, and personal beliefs. Repeatedly surprised and challenged by her students, Diehl questions her long-standing middle-class assumptions and confronts her own prejudices. In doing so, she eloquently reflects on what the students taught her about the hurt of bigotry and the humiliation of poverty as well as dignity, courage, and resiliency.
Set in the waning days of the Jim Crow South, Dream Not of Other Worlds chronicles an important moment in American history. Diehl examines the history of black education in the South and narrates the dramatic struggle to integrate Virginia's public schools. Meeting with some of her former students and colleagues and visiting the school where she once taught, she considers what has—and has not—changed after more than thirty years of integrated schooling. This provocative book raises many issues that are of urgent concern today: the continuing social consequences of segregated schools, the role of public education in American society, and the challenges of educating minority and poor children.
"This touching, sometimes heart-breaking account of an earnest white northerner's encounter with the last days of Jim Crow gives us a clear-eyed accounting of the price that system exacted and continues to exact. There are lessons here that both justice and prudence require us to ponder."—John Shelton Reed, William Rand Kenan Jr. Professor Emeritus of sociology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
"This poignant book is a needed reminder that the days of Jim Crow and the malignant lie of 'separate but equal' are not that long ago and that the tragic legacy of that era is unfortunately still with us today."—Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of Harlem Children's Zone and author of Fist Stick Knife Gun and Reaching Up for Manhood: Transforming the Lives of Boys in America