This provocative story of contemporary high school argues that a shallow culture of kindness can do more lasting harm than good.
Based on two years of research, Nice Is Not Enough shares striking dispatches from one high school's "regime of kindness" to underline how the culture operates as a Band-Aid on persistent inequalities. Through incisive storytelling and thoughtful engagement with students, this brilliant study exposes uncomfortable truths about American politics and our reliance on individual solutions instead of profound systemic change. Nice Is Not Enough brings readers into American High, a middle- and working-class high school characterized by acceptance, connection, and kindness—a place where, a prominent sign states, "there is no room for hate." Here, inequality is narrowly understood as a problem of individual merit, meanness, effort, or emotion rather than a structural issue requiring deeper intervention. Surface-level sensitivity allows American High to avoid "political" topics related to social inequality based on race, sex, gender, or class.
Being nice to each other does not serve these students or solve the broader issues we face; however, a true politics of care just might.
"Nice Is Not Enough is a deeply observed, profoundly important statement on how schools' well-meaning 'cultures of kindness' mask inequalities of race, class, gender, and sexuality while claiming to do the opposite. C.J. Pascoe has a gift for zapping ideas into focus, making you marvel at what you never noticed before—I found myself underlining nearly the entire thing. Like Dude, You’re a Fag, this book is destined to be a classic."— Peggy Orenstein, Girls and Sex and Boys and Sex
"Nice Is Not Enough is a virtuosic study from one of sociology's best ethnographers. Pascoe shows that the limits of good intentions and a superficial commitment to inclusion can end up glossing over structural inequalities. American High's 'regime of kindness' is a superficial commitment to diversity, inclusion, and anti-bullying that ignores exclusionary social systems that make some people more likely to face bullying. By narrowly defining what counts as political, school officials individualize structural problems (for instance, students are forced to participate in lockdown drills but are sanctioned for protesting gun violence). This, in turn, makes it difficult for students to understand the world, and to change their social world. Nice Is Not Enough is great sociology; it takes kids' lives seriously and illuminates the social forces that shape them. Pascoe has written another classic."—Victor Ray, On Critical Race Theory: Why It Matters and Why You Should Care
"Pascoe has given us a precisely observed, beautifully written, and very disturbing study of a contemporary school. She shows the school's genuine concern with tolerance and diversity, but also how these everyday practices evade spiky issues of power and social justice. Here are important questions about mainstream education and its social effect."—Raewyn Connell, Confronting Equality and Schools and Social Justice
"The power of this book lies in the balance it strikes between solemnity and joy—joy in its celebration of the progress that US schools have made in recent decades in advancing a culture of respect and mutual care, and solemnity in its assessment of the inherent limits of what can be achieved when we treat individual choices as the solution to social problems. As this book so deftly illustrates, kindness, for all its virtues, can also stifle the work of justice that is necessary for change to be won."—Jessica Calarco, Negotiating Opportunities: How the Middle Class Secures Advantages in School
“Pascoe’s engaging work takes us into the daily routines at American High School. She finds a school culture focused on kindness and good intentions, where ‘systematic inequalities get made to look like individual ones.’ Unlike many works, she offers a new direction: a 'politics of care' for schools to adopt to make a difference. Gripping, ethnographically rich, and beautifully written.”—Annette Lareau, We Thought It Would be Heaven: Refugees in an Unequal America