Background of “Literally Unbelievable”

The inequality in American education is rapidly increasing, but statistics cannot possibly tell the whole story.

Bronwyn Harris was a new teacher thrust into a classroom mid-year in the part of Oakland, California that the police call the “Killing Zone.” Her teacher preparation classes had not covered making child abuse reports, teaching traumatized children, helping students cope with difficult emotions, or keeping a class calm during a lockdown. She had to make her own way as she learned to help parents advocate for their children in interactions with law enforcement and school officials, have parent conferences with intoxicated parents, and deal with a new principal every year. Her students were surprising in many positive ways: intelligent, hard-working, funny, descriptive, loyal, and incredibly empathetic.

This book chronicles the ups and downs of the students she taught, as well as the toll this work took on her personally. Her deep love for the children of Oakland comes across in the pages, as she writes:

I offer their stories to you in the hope that, together, we can find real world solutions to the inequity that plagues the education and daily lives of children all over America.

Not “those kids.” Our kids.

Every one of them is worth fighting for. My greatest hope is that more people will see this and, like I have, will make it their own fight.

Harris includes her initial reaction to the neighborhood, her frustrations with the educational system, and her reasons for recording the students’ stories, as well as her own. She explains why the school and home environments are crucial to learning and illustrates the continuous struggles that teachers in under-resourced communities face. The wealth of a community should not determine the educational outcome for a student. Personal stories show how a caring teacher and support from the greater community can make a lasting difference.