DISCUSSION GUIDE

Questions And Topics Raised In Death, Unchartered

  1. What is the significance of the novel’s title, Death, Unchartered? Discuss possible meanings and why you think the author selected this title.
  2. With which characters did you feel the most sympathy and connections? How did your feelings about them change as the story unfolded?
  3. Who or what is the villain of the novel?
  4. What does Anthony Frascatore represent? What does Clarke Craine represent?
  5. During the 1968 teachers’ strike Sylvia Jensen supported the community control movement but it failed. Are there ways to have community control of schools that might have worked? What could have been done differently?
  6. Just as issues of race divided people about community control during the 1968 teachers’ strike, issues of race continue to divide people now about charter schools. Discuss how the issues played themselves out in the novel.
  7. Sylvia Jensen’s overarching objection to charter schools is that they drain money from public schools. Do you agree or disagree that that is a major problem? Why? Why not?
  8. Discuss Mentayer LeMeur’s social justice motivation for supporting charter schools, initially when she worked for a for-profit charter school corporation and later when she devoted herself to developing a nonprofit charter school for at-risk boys. Do you think charter schools exacerbate or ease inequality?
  9. What are your thoughts about the current movement to privatize a variety of public services while continuing to fund them with tax dollars (e.g., prisons, human services, public health, education)?
  10. Betsy DeVos, who was appointed by President Trump as U.S. Education Secretary in 2016, promotes the diversion of taxpayer funds to school choice schemes. What are the implications of the policies she promotes for public education in the U.S.?

Further Resources

Movie:Won’t Back Down. In this 2012 fact-based drama, two women from different classes and races (Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal) draw on their common bond of motherhood to fight institutional inertia and an antagonistic bureaucracy to improve an inner-city school.  The movie stimulates discussion of issues addressed in Death Uncharteredabout failing schools, teachers unions, community control of schools, and public vs. private schools.

Michigan Gambled On Charter Schools And Its Children Lost   New York Times Magazine,Sept. 5, 2017. A comprehensive article that provides a balanced overview of a current, real life charter school example in one state. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/05/magazine/michigan-gambled-on-charter-schools-its-children-lost.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region&region=top-

Two Books That Provide Point/Counterpoint Perspectives:

The Education of Eva Moskowitz: A Memoir, 2017, HarperCollins. This memoir by the outspoken founder and CEO of the charter school Success Academy tells one story about education and inequality: that poor children are suffering in bureaucratic and inadequate public schools and need both demanding educators to toughen them up and wealthy philanthropists to fund those efforts.

Class War: The Privatization of Childhood, 2015, by Megan Erickson,Verso.  This book by a New York City public school teacher tells a different and compelling story about education in which elite corporate education reformers have found new ways to transfer the costs of raising children from the state to individual families. While public schools, tasked with providing education, childcare, job training, meals, and social services to low-income children, struggle with cutbacks, private schools promise to nurture the minds and personalities of future professionals to the tune of $40,000 a year. Class Warreveals that this situation didn’t happen by chance.