Come into the special ed classroom, where the kids who don't fit in anywhere else spend their day. For these kids—real kids Dennis J. Bernstein taught in the New York City public schools before he became an internationally known investigative journalist—pistols, switchblades, police cars and hunger are more instructive than textbooks. Special Ed is about daily life under the siege of poverty,
racism, and class warfare. We come to know these kids intimately: Gloria, whose mother was disappeared in Guatemala and whose friendship with Marilyn rescues her from trauma-induced silence; Paulie, who "finds tears in the mirror's eyes" but thinks of himself as tough and defies the gang-guys who threaten to drop him from the roof of the projects; Regina, who sells nickel bags before class and gets high alone in the
gym before giving a heart-wrenching performance of a poem by Langston Hughes. Dennis Bernstein loves these kids fiercely, and we come to love them too as the collection unfolds.
Special Ed is about daily life under the siege of poverty, racism, and class warfare. In these stunning, understated poems, these poems unafraid to name the darkest facts of our world and yet continually informed with compassion, we find ourselves in Rilke's world of beauty and terror. To depict with love, as Bernstein does, is indeed to transform, the way a shattered guitar and broken glass are transformed by the kids in the
special ed classroom into art and jewels.
—Anita Barrows, PhD, poet, child psychologist, translator (with Joanna Macy) of Rainer Maria Rilke
Dennis Bernstein is a hero to me because of his dedicated, unflinching reporting of real news on Flashpoints, at KPFA in Berkeley, California. But his fearless pursuit of the truth about what is happening in our rapidly transforming world did not prepare me for the beauty, depth, not-one-word-mislaid perception of this amazing book. Each word, each line, each thought has a weight, a texture, a surprise all its own. With its moving preface, in which Dennis shares his own struggles as a young child with special needs, Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom is that unusual gift literature can be: We are connected to humanity in ways we might never have even considered or imagined before. Above all it is art turned to us through the eyes of love.
—Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, author of the Color Purple
Special Ed: Words in disorder that create a resemblance of order in the vagabond brain. Dennis Bernstein words hit me hard; everything about the short, whimsical poems gave me hope, desire, peace and a hint of madness. Life breathes trough his poems. Special Ed is a collection of snapshots, some in colors, some in black and white, but never in grey. Like helium balloons hovering over a party, Dennis's poems travel in multiple directions: they find their way into your soul waiting to be popped by a creative cloud tucked away deep inside.
Special Ed is a must read for all, to allow freedom to sip through and to tear off the labels that conceal the true human nature behind short, oppressing, limiting letters that specialized education is so found of! I love nothing more than starting each of my Education graduate classes with one of Dennis's poems and letting the words play their magic!
—Laurence Emmanuelle Hadjas, PhD, UCLA