Lessons from the Heartland

A Turbulent Half-Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City

A sweeping narrative portrait of the all-American city at the epicenter of public education reform—a Common Ground for the decades since the events chronicled in J. Anthony Lukas’s Pulitzer Prize winner

“Wisconsin has become ground zero. What happens could serve as a domino, win or lose, in either direction.” —Jonathan Williams, American Legislative Exchange Council, 2011

In a magisterial work of narrative nonfiction that weaves together the racially fraught history of public education in Milwaukee and the broader story of hypersegregation in the rust belt, Lessons from the Heartland tells of an iconic city’s fall from grace—and of its chance for redemption in the twenty-first century.

A symbol of middle American working-class values and pride, Wisconsin—and in particular urban Milwaukee—has been at the forefront of a half-century of public education experiments, from desegregation and “school choice,” to vouchers and charter schools. Picking up where J. Anthony Lukas’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Common Ground left off, Lessons from the Heartland offers a sweeping narrative portrait of an all-American city at the epicenter of American public education reform, and an exploration of larger issues of race and class in our democracy. Miner (whose daughters went through the Milwaukee public school system and who is a former Milwaukee Journal reporter) brings a journalist’s eye and a parent’s heart to exploring the intricate ways that jobs, housing, and schools intersect, underscoring the intrinsic link between the future of public schools and the dreams and hopes of democracy in a multicultural society.

This book will change the way we think about the possibility and promise of American public education.


“In her inimitable style, Barbara Miner has written an explosive educational biography of her hometown. The story of Milwaukee is really the multilayered tale of how America has long avoided committing to the education of low-income students of color. A must read for anyone seeking the real back story of our educational policy-making.”
—Lisa Delpit, bestselling author of “Multiplication Is for White People” and Other People’s Children
“Intensively, extensively, and specifically about the politics of public education in one American city, the issues Miner raises are of great importance to all those concerned with how our society educates its children.”
Publishers Weekly
Lessons from the Heartland is a social history with the pulse and pace of a carefully crafted novel and a Dickensian cast of unforgettable characters. With the eye of an ethnographer, the instincts of a beat reporter, and the heart of a devoted mother and citizen activist, Miner has created a compelling portrait of a city, a time, and a people on the edge. This is essential reading.”
—Bill Ayers, author of To Teach: The Journey in Comics and Teaching Toward Freedom and co-editor of City Kids, City Schools
“Miner eloquently captures the narratives of schoolchildren, parents, and teachers. . . . Readers in and around Wisconsin will especially find this title of interest, as will educators who wish to avoid Milwaukee’s pitfalls.”
Library Journal
“What a great read! Miner’s story of Milwaukee is filled with memorable characters and powerful events that have national resonance. Through Milwaukee, she explores with consummate skill the dynamics of race, politics, and schools in our time.”
—Mike Rose, Professor of Social Research Methodology in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and author of Back to School, Why School and The Mind at Work

Goodreads Reviews