The Presidential Recommended Reading List: UC Press Edition

Today on President’s Day, the nation commemorates the achievements of all of America’s chief executives. From the best books about American presidents to the favorite books of each of the 44 presidents, books help people gain insight on their presidents—and can help presidents gain insight on their constituents.

As many provide recommended reading lists for current President Donald Trump to learn from, we add here our list of suggested titles.

Political Economics



Law and Justice

What book would you add to the president’s recommended reading list?


Reaching for Their Dreams—Eight Years On

As part of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we recognize Hispanic and Latino Americans’ current contributions–and current struggles–in the United States. Learn more at #HispanicHeritage Month.

By Barbara Davenport, author of Grit and Hope: A Year with Five Latino Students and the Program That Helped Them Aim for College and Hope tells the stories of a handful of first-gen Hispanic students who wrote their college applications in the midst of the country’s worst recession and of Reality Changers, the program that helped them get to college. Eight years on, many of Reality Changers’ graduates have chosen work that enables them to help disadvantaged youth the way that Reality Changers helped them. Here’s what three of them are doing now:

  • Theresa was named a Gates Millennium Scholar and graduated from UC Riverside. She worked as a tutor at Reality Changers, and this fall started a masters program in multicultural community counseling and social justice.
  • Mercedes left UC Riverside two quarters short of graduation, tripped up by the residuals of trauma and early deprivation. She works now as director of recreation in a skilled nursing facility. Not graduating eats at her. Her daughter Alma is nearly four years old. Mercedes wants better opportunities for herself and, even more, she wants to be a good role model for Alma. She’s saving money and laying the groundwork to go back to school and finish. Once she graduates, she wants to tutor for Reality Changers, and maybe even lead a cohort of students.
  • Jesse went to Harvard and then taught in Mexico for a year on a Fulbright teaching fellowship. Now he’s based in a San Francisco high school, serving as Dream Director for the Futures Project, helping disadvantaged students realize their dreams.

Davenport.GritAndHopeFounder Chris Yanov designed Reality Changers as a social and psychological scaffolding that would support students and provide a sense of family. “Congress is the thing that makes Reality Changers different from all other tutoring programs. We aren’t here just to raise our grades. We’re a family,” Yanov says. The sense of family was the heart of the program; it held students and was what they valued most. They could launch into the unknown waters of college secure that they had the support of peers and staff who had gone the distance with them. Reality Changers has woven through their lives, scaffolding their efforts and enlarging their sense of what was possible.

A majority of alumni continue to feel a strong connection to the program that helped them change their lives. Their alumni network helps them keep in touch and learn about new initiatives in the program. They volunteer for fundraising events. They come on program nights to talk with the current seniors; some come every week to tutor.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with Reality Changers students.
Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with Reality Changers students.

They’ve learned that Reality Changers couldn’t change their most difficult realities: not their immigration status nor illnesses, nor family problems. It couldn’t dissolve other people’s prejudices, couldn’t prevent the losses that inevitably come in the pursuit of ambitious goals. Still they call their experience in Reality Changers life-changing. It encouraged them to raise their expectations of what they believed they could do, and it opened opportunities they didn’t know existed. They all speak of their commitment to give back to their families and their community. Every one of them says that Reality Changers enabled them to transform their lives and continue to reach for their dreams.

Barbara Davenport
 is a writer and psychotherapist in San Diego. has written for the Christian Science Monitor, Stanford Magazine, and alternative
weeklies in San Diego, where she lives. For more about her, please

Launching from the Bottom Rung: Grit and Hope and Reality Changers

By Barbara Davenport, author of Grit and Hope: A Year with Five Latino Students and the Program That Helped Them Aim for College

This guest post is published in advance of the American Sociological Association conference in Seattle. Check back every week for new posts through the end of the conference on August 23rd.

In the midst of the worst recession in eighty years, five Latino students are writing their college applications. Robert lives with his grandmother and his uncle in a garage without a bathroom. They don’t eat breakfast, because they don’t have enough food. Dinner most nights is baloney and tortillas; some nights it’s just tortillas. Jesse’s single mother supports him and his younger brother on $9000 a year cleaning houses. For most of her junior year, Suzie waitressed forty hours a week, 3:30 to 11 pm, 2 am on Fridays and Saturdays, her salary and tips the only income for her family of four. Her guidance counselor advised her not to apply to four-year universities, because “people like you should go to community college.” Daniel, who swims on his school’s varsity swim team and takes AP English Lit and AP physiology, is undocumented, ineligible for state or federal scholarship assistance. He needs to get into a private college that can provide a full ride scholarship. Jorge’s girlfriend is expecting their child, and her family is pressuring him to quit school and get a job. He doesn’t know how he’ll finish high school and support his new baby, much less go to college.

Grit and Hope: A Year with Five Latino Students and the Program that Helped Them Aim for College tells their stories. The program is Reality Changers, a college readiness program that, over the last fifteen years, has changed the game for disadvantaged youth in San Diego. Its students come from the city’s poorest, most violent neighborhoods. They are immigrants or the children of immigrants. Some are citizens; some are undocumented. Their parents are hotel maids and fry cooks and landscapers. They aren’t cherry-picked high achievers; some enter the program as academic underperformers, chronic truants, gang affiliated or homeless.

Christopher Yanov was twenty-three, substitute teaching at a middle school where the students spoke twelve languages, and gang wannabe’s ruled the courtyard, when he founded Reality Changers in 2001. He saw that many of his students had as much innate ability and determination as the middle-class kids he’d grown up with. What they lacked was the scaffolding of family and social supports that middle class students take for granted: an ambitious vision of what they could accomplish and a milieu of peers and adults who validated their ambitions and helped them reach their goals. He founded Reality Changers to provide that scaffolding. Reality Changers now serves more than five hundred students a year. Its alumni attend all the University of California undergraduate campuses and many of the Cal States, as well as Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth, Northwestern, Duke, Stanford, and Princeton.

I wrote Grit and Hope because I’m interested in launching, the era when teenagers navigate from the circle of family and high school to find their place in the adult world. Launching’s a critical period; the strengths and weaknesses people bring to this life passage, what they aim for, the roads they take and those not taken will shape the rest of their lives. It’s hard work for all adolescents, significantly harder for those who start from a the bottom rungs of the social and economic ladder. As inequalities in income and opportunity America have become increasingly stark, I’ve grown concerned about what it’s like for youth growing up on the have-not side of the gap. How do the brutal inequalities of their lives skew their efforts to launch?

I figured best the way to answer that question was to listen to youth who were doing it—launching themselves from those bottom rungs—and tell their stories. I found them at Reality Changers. I followed Reality Changers for five years, talking with students and their parents, with Yanov, his staff and the volunteer tutors.

Grit and Hope reveals their personal struggles: a student’s undocumented status that loomed over every decision he made, whether to ride the trolley, whether to have a girlfriend. A firstborn daughter’s conflict between helping her younger siblings when a parent was unable to function or going to college for herself. A mother with a diagnosis of Stage IV cancer. An outstanding student plagued by gnawing doubts about whether she belonged in college.

Their stories need to be told. Statistics and research can alert us to problems and document their scope, but stories help us see the people who are living in the problem: their courage, their pain,and the costs of their dreams. Seeing the people is the beginning of change.

This is a gritty book. Not all the stories are about successes. There are setbacks and derailments and painful losses.

The stories in Grit and Hope also highlight some of the most urgent issues facing the country: immigration reform, especially the status of the Dreamers, integrating immigrant and minority youth into our democracy and our economy, and a particularly brutal inequality, inadequate funding for urban schools, where students who need the best teachers and the most resources get neither. How we address these issues, or fail to address them, will shape our society for decades to come.

On a winter night in 2002, Christopher Yanov sat with a handful of eighth graders and college-student tutors in the Iglesia Presbiteriana Hispana. The one-story cinderblock building in Golden Hill, near San Diego’s downtown, looked more like a fortress than a church. Iron grillwork covered the windows; the door was a slab of hardened steel.

Yanov and the tutors and students sat on folding chairs around two tables in a room facing the street. The kids settled into their homework, and the room was quiet, punctuated with occasional murmured consultations.

Reality Changers was eight months old, with a census of twelve, six boys and six girls he’d recruited at Ray A. Kroc Middle School, where he was a substitute teacher. Students were expected to come every week, but attendance was spotty. Tonight just six kids showed up. He didn’t know whether Reality Changers was going to fly.

            A rock clattered against the bars. Heads snapped up from books. Another rock crashed on the bars, and rattled the glass. Salvo after salvo of pebbles followed, clanging against steel and glass.

Then the shouts.

“Kiss-ass schoolboys! Little pussies!

            “How come we’re out here and not in there!”

            “Hey, Chris! You forgotten your friends?”

A brown face pushed between the bars and pressed against the glass. “Chris! You only talking to the smart kids now?”

            The tutors looked at Yanov, eyes wide. They were freshmen from UC San Diego, worlds away from the Iglesia; they hadn’t bargained for this. The kids shot sidelong looks at each other and tried to look cool. Perla Garcia knew the guys outside; she wished they’d just go home. Jorge Narvaez pretended to read, and hoped they’d be gone by the time he had to walk to the bus stop.

Just ignore it and keep on working, Yanov told them. They’ll get bored and quit.

“Losers! Wait’ll you get out here. We’ll fix your asses!”

The rocks kept clattering. The shouts got louder. Kids stopped even pretending to study.

           Yanov rolled his eyes and exhaled with exasperation. He stood up and walked out the front door in his shirtsleeves. The night was cold; in the light from the street lamp he could see his breath. He stood a shade under six feet, shoulders squared, chin high, dark hair and beard cropped close.

A dozen eighth and ninth graders stood under the street lamp. All of them lived in the neighborhood and most went to Kroc. Their heads were shaved and they wore the cholo uniform of baggy jeans and oversize black nylon jackets. He’d invited every one of them to join Reality Changers.

They’d have to bring their grades up to a 3.0. Come to meetings every week for academic help and lessons on values and life skills. Instead of a gang, be part of a group where everyone was aiming for college, and kids helped each other. He guaranteed that if they stayed with the program through high school, they’d get into college, and they’d have the scholarships they needed.

He’d worked especially hard on Jonny, who lived across the street from him, a few blocks east of the Iglesia. He was a sweet, soft-looking boy with a shy smile and lush, dark hair that fell over his forehead. His notebooks overflowed with drawings of cars and characters from video games and words in bulging, kinetic letters. Yanov knew Jonny from subbing in his honors algebra class, but lately he’d seen him in the courtyard at Kroc, where the guys from Lomas26 hung out by the coral tree. The Lomas26 gang ran the streets in Golden Hill, and they were leaning on Jonny to join. Last fall he’d shaved his head and started to dress like them. Yanov knew that if he didn’t get to Jonny soon, Lomas26 would.

Now here was Jonny, throwing rocks. “Hey Chris, no fair,” he yelled. “You didn’t let us in!”

“You guys know you’re invited,” he said. “You just got to get your grades up.”

“Aw-w, man.”

“Kids inside did.”

“We know you better. You’re our guy. You should just let us in.”

“When you get your 3.0, we’ll be glad to have you. Tonight’s not a ‘no,’ it’s a ‘not yet.’ See you around.” He waved and walked back into the church.

Rocks rang the bars like chimes. The kids and tutors were rattled. Not much homework got done that night, and the tutors chalked up the meeting as a loss.

Yanov couldn’t stop grinning. Those guys wanted in. He knew he had something.

Barbara Davenport is a writer and psychotherapist in San Diego, & the author, as Barbara Davenport, of The Worst Loss, How Families Heal from the Death of a Child.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Day!

Without teachers and educators, where would the world be?

University of California Press is honored to collaborate with university professors who serve as authors of outstanding scholarship. The work of addressing society’s core challenges can be accelerated when scholarship assumes its role as an agent of engagement and democracy.

To that end we take a moment to celebrate our authors’ and professors’ contributions to our society. The following are just some titles that share how teachers make a difference in our world, everyday.  

Happy Teacher Appreciation Day! #TeacherAppreciationDay


Grit and Hope: A Year with Five Latino Students and the Program That Helped Them Aim for College by Barbara Davenport

Grit and Hope tells the story of five inner-city Hispanic students who start their college applications in the midst of the country’s worst recession and of Reality Changers, the program that aims to help them become the first in their families to go college. This year they must keep up their grades in AP courses, write compelling essays for their applications, and find scholarships to fund their dreams. The book also follows Christopher Yanov, the program’s youthful, charismatic founder in a year that’s as critical for Reality Changers’ future as it is for the seniors. Told with deep affection yet without sentimentality, Grit and Hope shows that although poverty and cultural deprivation seriously complicate youths’ efforts to launch into young adulthood, the support of a strong program makes a critical difference.

Hicks.RoadOutThe Road Out: A Teacher’s Odyssey in Poor America by Deborah Hicks

Can one teacher truly make a difference in her students’ lives when everything is working against them? Can a love for literature and learning save the most vulnerable of youth from a life of poverty? The Road Out is a gripping account of one teacher’s journey of hope and discovery with her students—girls growing up poor in a neighborhood that was once home to white Appalachian workers, and is now a ghetto. Deborah Hicks, set out to give one group of girls something she never had: a first-rate education, and a chance to live their dreams. The author’s own life story—from a poorly educated girl in a small mountain town to a Harvard-educated writer, teacher, and social advocate—infuses this chronicle with a message of hope.



School’s Out: Gay and Lesbian Teachers in the Classroom by Catherine Connell

How do gay and lesbian teachers negotiate their professional and sexual identities at work, given that these identities are constructed as mutually exclusive, even as mutually opposed? Using interviews and other ethnographic materials from Texas and California, School’s Out explores how teachers struggle to create a classroom persona that balances who they are and what’s expected of them in a climate of pervasive homophobia. Catherine Connell’s examination of the tension between the rhetoric of gay pride and the professional ethic of discretion insightfully connects and considers complicating factors, from local law and politics to gender privilege. She also describes how racialized discourses of homophobia thwart challenges to sexual injustices in schools. Written with ethnographic verve, School’s Out is essential reading for specialists and students of queer studies, gender studies, and educational politics.


The Separation Solution? Single-Sex Education and the New Politics of Gender Equality by Juliet A. Williams

Since the 1990s, there has been a resurgence of interest in single-sex education across the United States, and many public schools have created all-boys and all-girls classes for students in grades K through 12. The Separation Solution? provides an in-depth analysis of controversies sparked by recent efforts to separate boys and girls at school. Reviewing evidence from research studies, court cases, and hundreds of news media reports on local single-sex initiatives, Juliet Williams offers fresh insight into popular conceptions of the nature and significance of gender differences in education and beyond.




The Real School Safety Problem: The Long-Term Consequences of Harsh School Punishment by Aaron Kupchik

Schools across the U.S. look very different today than they did a generation ago. Police officers, drug-sniffing dogs, surveillance cameras, and high suspension rates have become commonplace. The Real School Safety Problem uncovers the unintended but far-reaching effects of harsh school discipline climates. Evidence shows that current school security practices may do more harm than good by broadly affecting the entire family, encouraging less civic participation in adulthood, and garnering future financial costs in the form of high rates of arrests, incarceration, and unemployment. This text presents a blueprint for reform that emphasizes problem-solving and accountability while encouraging the need to implement smarter school policies.