Synopses & Reviews
In Cross-X, journalist Joe Miller follows the Kansas City Central High School’s debate squad through the 2002 season that ends with a top-ten finish at the national championships in Atlanta. By almost all measures, Central is just another failing inner-city school. Ninety-nine percent of the students are minorities. Only one in three graduate. Test scores are so low that Missouri bureaucrats have declared the school “academically deficient.” But week after week, a crew of Central kids heads off to debate tournaments in suburbs across the Midwest and South, where they routinely beat teams from top-ranked schools. In a game of fast-talking, wit, and sheer brilliance, these students close the achievement gap between black and white students—an accomplishment that educators and policy makers across the country have been striving toward for years. Here is the riveting and poignant story of four debaters and their coach as they battle formidable opponents from elite prep schools, bureaucrats who seem maddeningly determined to hold them back, friends and family who are mired in poverty and drug addiction, and—perhaps most daunting—their own self-destructive choices. In the end, Miller finds himself on a campaign to change debate itself, certain that these students from the Eastside of Kansas City may be the saviors of a game that is intrinsic to American democracy.
"For anyone who thinks of high school debate and envisions nerdy teens, the story of the Kansas City Central debate squad will be eye-opening. Despite the inner-city school's academic deficiencies, and the students' own turbulent home lives, the young African-American debaters have been able to carve out a sphere of success for themselves in part by making the racial issues surrounding their participation a key part of their arguments. Miller, a local reporter, spends most of his time with two teams of debaters: underclassmen Ebony and Antoine, who are still learning the ropes, and seniors Marcus and Brandon, working their way toward a national championship in Atlanta. Miller embeds himself deep into their lives and is forthright about how his journalistic objectivity slowly eroded. (First, he tells Marcus not to skip a debate; eventually he becomes the team's assistant coach.) Convinced by the energetic competitions that debate is 'the best education-reform tool I've ever seen,' he attacks the bureaucratic red tape of a 'dysfunctional' school system that forces the students to break the rules in order to travel to out-of-state events. The reporting is both lively and engrossing, and even at nearly 500 pages, the book encourages most readers to learn more about these remarkable teens." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The minute I finished Joe Miller's Cross-X, I held the book out in front of me amazed, rapturous and hopeful....It's an incredibly powerful, daringly hopeful book." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"[A] thoughtful portrait....A provocative portrait that uncovers entrenched racism and class disparities in the debate community and in America as a whole." Kirkus Reviews
"Miller examines efforts to improve academic performance at inner-city schools, close the achievement gap between students of different races and economic backgrounds, and the broader issues of overcoming poverty." Booklist
"[E]ngrossing....While nondebaters might want to dog-ear early pages that explain techniques and terminology, the technical bits are subsidiary to a provocative underdog tale." Library Journal
"YAs will find the lives of the participants, particularly aspects of college recruitment and the daily school environment, as interesting as the details about how the team wins." School Library Journal
"While Cross-X might have started out as a Rocky-like story of a team conquering great odds, it morphs into an important, thoughtful, and provocative look at race and class in America..." Boston Globe
"Miller does an excellent job of capturing the disaster that is the Kansas City School Board....Miller's fervor for the team rubs off and it's hard not to cheer these underdogs." Rocky Mountain News
is to be lauded for its you-are-there feeling and for not shying away from subjects that defy easy answers. It allows us into the powerful and poetic minds of young people while pointing out how rarely those in impoverished schools receive such genuine intellectual nurturing." Stacy A. Teicher, The Christian Science Monitor
(read the entire CSM review
Miller follows an "academically deficient" inner-city school's debate squad through the 2002 season that ends with a top-ten finish at the national championships in Atlanta.
A Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year
By almost all measures, Kansas City's Central High School is just another failing inner-city school--with abysmal test scores, only one in three graduate. Cross-X is the riveting story of Central's championship debate team. As the students and their coach face formidable opponents from elite prep schools, they must also battle bureaucrats who seem maddeningly determined to hold them back, friends and family who are mired in poverty and drug addiction, and--perhaps most daunting--their own self-destructive choices. It is a gripping story about the essential nature of debate in any democratic society, and how through argument, retort, and wit, ideals survive even under the most difficult conditions.
About the Author
Joe Miller is a journalist living in Kansas City. His writing has appeared in The Pitch, Poets & Writers, Art in America, Art Papers, New Art Examiner, Rocky Mountain News, and Boulder County Business Report. He is the 2003 recipient of the President’s Award Recognizing Outstanding Contributions in Journalism, Kansas City Press Club. Cross-X is his first book.