Music in the Halls

Pact Press Titles
$17.95 - $27.95
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Expected release date is 2nd Jan 2024

Through vignettes, essays, snapshots, portraits, and poems, Music in the Halls reveals the inner workings of a high-poverty District of Columbia Public School. In it, Jankowski brings to light the visceral and emotional nature of childhood poverty and trauma and how it not only impacts a student’s ability to learn but also how it restricts their ability to live a full life. Uncovering the interwoven worlds of children and their parents, teachers and administrators, and the DCPS bureaucracy—all residing in close proximity to the nation’s capitol—Music in the Halls is not simply a tale of hard knocks; it is an exploration of how one man’s understanding and compassion can be transformed and expanded to encompass and embrace this world.

Praise for Music in the Halls

Music in the Halls is not a book that you can prepare yourself to read; maybe I was a little overly ambitious, thinking I could absorb it all in one sitting. From the Introduction, the reader is drawn into the author’s world, one of high pressure/high stakes, where immediate outcomes are demanded. Music in the Halls is a memoir, documentary, and wakeup call neatly packaged into one text. In turning the pages, Lean on Me, Spike Lee, and Abbott Elementary are pictured in my mind.  Jankowski’s book is one of intimacy, crying, violence, anger, animalistic desperation and isolation.  Jankowski confronts us repeatedly, which education do we want? Which education do we value? "We expect a curiosity for learning to magically spring from this turbulent terrain filled with imminent, real, and embedded danger. We are the fools." And now, after the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual learning, and every assortment of challenge known to human beings, this book, this call to action is more relevant than before. Do not simply put down this book after you have read the last word. Decide in this moment how you will live with a focus on "social emotional needs more than strict education." 

- Marja Humphrey, PhD, NCC, LGPC  Assistant Professor, School Counseling  Bowie State University 

Being a teacher in a public school at times is like being a juror in a courtroom.  One can be caught listening and watching not realizing that more than a witness (or parent) that one is responsible for justice - in this case the education of our youth. In his book Music in the Halls, Bernard Jankowski, a special education teacher in a D.C. public school, soon learns that all children must be considered special if the job of teaching is taking seriously. It’s unfortunate that so much is broken in our educational system. Jankowski provides written testimony as to how  educational experiments too often fail. Music in the Halls is filled with a symphony of children stories. Jankowski has an ear and a heart for his students. It’s impossible to read this book without swaying or shuckling with sadness. This book will make one pray for change in our school systems. 

 - E. Ethelbert Miller, writer and literary activist

I have known Bernard Jankowski’s writing in all its forms over the years, and in no way was I prepared to read a book of such consummate humanity and prowess as Music in the Halls. I began to scan the text to get a generalized understanding; and then found myself riveted to every word on every paragraph through every page; the story is like a knife you hold in your hand that you can’t let go, and must be held carefully.

The book is one large conceit for the wound in our society but told through the brown eyes of the children and the broken hearts of their teachers. Society’s wretched wound is the classroom where teachers are heroes or failures, or both, against inestimable odds of poverty, hunger, anger and shame. The organization of the book is a masterful structure for the “teaching poverty” experience with anecdotes, quotes, stories, characters, situations, tolerances, authority, traditions, customs. And, more than anything, a try for what can be saved.

In my younger years I taught in the lower grades. My classes were made of children who came to school well- dressed after a hearty breakfast, and yet the stressors were always enormous. I cannot imagine navigating the lifelines that were extended in “Mr. J’s” book. I see those many faces with all those children’s names, as straining and struggling toward some sort of hope as if it is the sun- yet so out of reach.

“Will you be my dad tomorrow, Mr. J?” Bernard Jankowski was that and more, but took away words burned on his soul: “Happy Now, Sad Later.” How do we get every member of Congress to read this book? Nevertheless, I am confident that Music in the Halls will reach many readers who are passionate about children and education, not only for the profound statements, but for its emotional purity and rasp. It is a Masterwork. A Masterwork.

- Grace Cavalieri, Maryland poet Laureate

In Music in the Halls, Bernard Jankowski, "Mr. J" to his students, taught at Amidon Elementary School, in southwest Washington DC. This book digs into and displays the raw emotion and reality of that world laid against the everydayness of school. You feel the children’s pain and the teachers’ frustrations. You feel the inability of the container to hold the energy of widespread poverty, trauma, and PTSD. Mr. J reached deep into himself to give to his students all he had of empathy, intelligence, sympathy, and love. He fed them when they could not speak from hunger and waited beside them when they were mute from last night's terrors. He brought to the chaos of their lives, and their parents' lives, respect and learning and a resolute spirit of uncommon compassion.

- Mary Ann Larkin, Emeritus, Howard University

Music in the Halls provides a searing and indelible portrait of life as an educator in the DC Public schools. Bernard Jankowski embeds the reader in the unrelenting chaos of DC Public Schools through a series of dispatches from the frontlines. This basketball poet’s finely tuned ear presents a hallway music that is heartbreakingly sad, at times joyous and full of humor. Jankowski covers an American tragedy that is systemic in its continual neglect of the children who most need someone to stand up for them.    

 – Dean Smith, author of Baltimore Sons

Using vivid portraits, Music in the Halls reveals in telling detail the trauma of high poverty children. Jankowski captures the cultural dissonance and stressors, the generational trauma and PTSD, and the challenges of teaching with striking scenes, character portraits and essays. For people working in this environment, this book will motivate you to bring your best self into the school building each and every day. These children deserve nothing less. 

- Dr. Dwayne E. Ham, Sr. Adjunct Professor, Bowie State University