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3.8  ·  Rating details ·  217 Ratings  ·  51 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 ...more
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published October 3rd 2006 by Farrar Straus Giroux
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Rating details
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Jul 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Debaters- Cross-X or CEDA (LD and Parli need not apply)
Recommended to Chloe by: Stacia Secreriat
Sometimes I start to tell people about my experiences in high school and they look at me as though I'm from another planet. Every day for four years I would wake up at 5:30, deliver papers around my neighborhood, defrost my toes, and head to school by 6:30 for zero hour chamber choir rehearsals. I typically would not leave the building again until 8 or 9 in the evening, having eaten very little but sustained on a near constant drip of Mountain Dew and the occasional banana or apple. I had the se ...more
Oct 15, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: nostalgic debaters (e.g., karuna), change agents (e.g., karuna)
Underdog stories are seductive, but I tend not to like them, especially when they involve Black youth. Intentionally or not, these stories tend to give the public permission to forego pushing for, or even paying attention to, the need for systemic change. So halfway through reading this book, I got annoyed since it seemed like the same GangstasParadiseFreedomWritersLeanonMe story that makes smart, Black children the exception and not the rule. ("If only you have the right educator who can really ...more
Joe Miller
Aug 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
Recommends it for: everyone
I wrote this book.
Nov 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A tremendously good book that not only addresses cross-x or policy-style debate, but also race, gender, and class in competitive academic arenas and in the larger world. I loved it as a former policy debater, but I also liked it as someone interested in race, gender, and class in the academic environment. Highly recommended.
Nov 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
I liked reading about something that happened in Missouri since I recently moved here. I feel like I witnessed a real-life application of Freire. The frequent mention of Dismantling Racism makes me want to read that, too, among other sources the debaters used. If only Foucault was as good as Miller at writing non-fiction page-turners, Eric Schlosser-style.

This is a story of how high school students transformed the debate circuit through the use of personal narrrative. It does follow the Hollywoo
Catherine Carithers
I began Cross-X expecting that it would be a standard uplifting tale of how an unlikely group of teenagers became debate champions. It turned out to be all that I expected, plus a fascinating examination of race and socioeconomic status.
Jul 17, 2017 rated it liked it
OK, it took me 5 years to finally finish this book. It was recommended by my son who did debate in High school. I felt so hopeful for the students from Central High in Kansas City , MO to succeed. even after so much time had passed in my reading. They were up against New Trier and top school in the midwest. I really connected with the staff and the struggle of the students. What a challenge to move forward with so many strikes against them.
Feb 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I feel lucky to have randomly discovered this book by Joe Miller. Not only is it set in my own city - Kansas City - it is also well-written in an enjoyable journalistic style. As a bonus, Cross-X piqued my interest in a subject which I am unlikely to have chosen, the regional and national high school debate scene.

Central High School in Kansas City, MO, is part of one of the worst performing school districts in the country; the district has even lost its accreditation since Miller published his b
May 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I thought this was great. It usually takes me weeks to finish nonfiction books. I knocked this one out in four days, and it's a tome at 500+ pages. This appealed to me on a few levels:

1. As a recovering policy debater: I competed in the 2002-2003 season at several of the tournaments these guys attended, so I remember that topic and the cases well (oh, Natives). As a girl, I remember how furious I felt all the time at the way I was treated by a lot of those all-white, all-male teams you'd hit on
Elizabeth K.
Jul 31, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2008-new-reads
A journalist spends a year (and change) following a high school debate team from Kansas City Central. At first I was a little wary this was going to be one of those Stand and Deliver type stories, because Central is a predominately black, academically at risk, urban school. It didn't go down that path, fortunately. The book itself is structured a bit along the lines of a formal debate (not in a gimmicky, in your face way, thank goodness). The author provides in-depth profiles of several of the d ...more
Mar 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir
I marked this as both nonfiction and memoir because the first half (make that 3/4) is a standard journalistic account of a disadvantaged group of black teens who are on a high school debate team. This is interesting enough as it is, challenging our ideas about what education in America needs today in order to reach our youth. But it's pretty standard fare as far as this goes - it doesn't challenge you too much, especially if you're white and middle or upper class.

What was most fascinating was wh
This has been my between books book since November and I am not sure if reading all 512 pages was worth it.
Joe Miller, journalist, follows Central High's debate team at the beginning of this decade. I appreciated reading about Central High, an urban school in Kansas City.

But what I learned is that debate makes you crazy.

The teacher coach is a debate martyr. Every weekend she is driving her van of students to debate competition. She is fighting for her kids to be allowed to compete, writing th
Dec 06, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So, I was pre-inclined to love this book because I've been debating my whole life, and I have always been a part of the world of "the game" that Miller describes. I particularly recommend this book for debaters, but I think it could be meaningful for anyone, as it is as much about an inner city debate program as it is about the horrifying state of public education for poor, black kids in this country and as it is about the desire, and means, of bringing real change to a community. Miller crosses ...more
Dec 19, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 06-and-earlier
As a fairly recently graduated former debater (LD though, not CX) I was immediately intrigued by this book and beyond the way it touches on issues of racism and unequal access to education, I found it also appealed to the bit of nostalgia I continue to have for the activity.

I guess this book is consistent with any number of "poor, minority kids get inspired and find that they can succeed" stories you constantly see at the movies and does risk being a cliche. As someone who knows for a fact how
Kathy McC
Jul 27, 2010 rated it liked it
The true story of of the Central High debate team from the east side of Kansas City. It was a tale of the "haves" and the "have nots". My favaorite parts were the commentaries on actual debate rounds and the explanations of the debate process. While my debaters do not have to contend with life in the ghetto and they do not face the uphill battles that come with attending a poorly achieving urban school, the angst and political issues they have faced in the past were similar.

"This coach and thes
May 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
Wow...what a book. Cross-X details the story of the debate team at Central High (a predominately African American high school in Kansas City labeled as academically deficient by the district) and the journey of the book's author from a detatched observer and journalist, to an emotionally committed and driven advocate, who steps over the boundary of journalistic integrity by becoming an active influence in the very story he is writing.

The story itself is unbelievable. You just get the feeling tha
Ann Rufo
Jan 17, 2010 rated it it was ok
I admit to a past life as a high school debater, and not casually, as in "I occasionally went to tournaments," or "I think I've heard of a kritik before" either. I admit to a past life as a high schooler whose time was consumed with debate. And as a reformed, no longer reads the New York Times with a Red Pen, debater I was excited to come across a book which depicted high school debate how it really is, as oppossed to say, Kirk Cameron. In the end though, the compelling part of Miller's book is ...more
Nov 21, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Finished Miller's "Cross-X"-- and as i neared the end, i started getting tingles. the author does a fantastic job, writing honestly about becoming emotionally attached to the young high-schoolers he follows (eventually getting so drawn into his own story that he starts his own debate team in another inner-city school). what gave me shivers is watching him come to similar conclusions as i had (he from his personal experiences, me primarily from reading jonathan kozol)-- the glaring inequalities o ...more
Nov 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read this a long time ago and found it to be a very accurate and very interesting portrayal of high school debate at the turn of the century (20th to 21st). The author really takes you inside team meetings, inside tournaments, and inside the process of preparing and working with students for high school debate competition at the highest levels. I think the most valuable aspect of this book is how new coaches forget they are teachers, and how easy it is for those first enamored with debating to b ...more
Aug 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, education
I would have loved this book even if the author wasn't a friend of mine. I was blown away by Joe's narrative and the breadth and depth of his reporting. He wrote so compellingly about the students that I found myself rooting for them in every debate round, as if I had actually been at all those schools during all those tournaments.

In that sense, Joe accomplished what Laura Hillenbrand did in the fantastic book "Seabiscuit," where it felt like the reader was actually in the saddle during the race
Bookmarks Magazine

Journalist Joe Miller's first book is highly political, and very important. Not only does it point fingers at the deficiencies of the Kansas City School Board, but it also reveals how race, class, and poverty affect education in America. While Miller's analysis of these issues may seem old hat, his in-depth portrayal of the debaters' complicated, troubled family lives elevates his narrative's significance. (One student comes from a family of sharecroppers; another lives in homeless shelters.) Mi

Journalist Joe Miller follows the ups and down of an UDL (Urban Debate League) from Kansas City. At first, observer only, by the end of his story, he becomes involved in the lives of the students (coach). The travails of the team goes beyond getting students involved: racism, lack of awareness of white privilege, institutional racism (at the school system level, the debate leagues' organizational level, etc), even down to the form of debate that favors the wealthy white schools (and all schools ...more
Don Gonzalez
Aug 25, 2014 rated it liked it
I was challenged to read this years ago by one of my students when I was still an active high school debate coach. While I think the account is a great underdog story, it tends to fall into a paternalistic trap. The notion that minority students cannot compete fairly against white "privileged" programs without shifting the debate to a kritik of debate is insulting and borders on racist. At best, this suggestion is paternalistic. Unfortunately this style of debate has taken over urban debate leag ...more
Dec 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: ex-debaters
This book was like reliving my senior year of debate through the eyes of a poor African-American student. An in-depth look at the debate system from someone who experienced the circuit with a group of kids who had experiences that were both similar and light-years away from what I experienced. Being back in the world of cross-x and counter plans and squirrely cases was so much fun, I have to admit. The fact that the story is placed in the same year and using cases/characters that I recognized ma ...more
Dec 03, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A LONG, yet fascinating look at how institutional racism effects the tragic U.S. education system. The writer is a journalist, who sets off to document how the debate team of a "poor" inner city school overcomes the obstacles of racism by using the tools learned in their award winning debate team. The teens in the book are wonderful, and Miller does an excellent job of telling their varied and often sad life stories without exploiting or using them. I would recommend this to any one who works wi ...more
Feb 18, 2013 rated it it was ok
I read this book in the fall as I took on coaching the Debate team at my school. A great page turning read. The book is about poor kids of color getting a chance to use debate to take on issues of race, class and power in the elite privileged circles of policy debate. However, having taught for years I saw clearly how the book is also a story about the relationship between teacher and students, mentor and youth. There is trouble in this book that the author doesn't know, or more generously, is s ...more
Over the course of a year, the author follows selected members of a Kansas City high school debate team. The almost-all black Central High has been declared academically deficient, yet Ms Rinehart, a white woman who is the debate teacher, has led award-winning teams for several years. Only read the first 10 chapters; did not feel the story was moving along. (The title refers to "cross examination.")
Dec 20, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: debate geeks
oh man this book is hardcore debate. i picked it up when my dad checked it out of the library, and i only read a few chapters. the book is about the tough world of debate and how some minority students rose above their situations through it. i like the subject matter, though in my experience debate has way more rules than are presented in the book. i just didn't like the way it was written (through the eyes of their coach) so i didn't finish it.
Feb 22, 2009 rated it liked it
I'm glad I read this book although by the second half I was wishing for a good editor. For a novice like me, the debate stuff was initially quite interesting, but I ended up getting more than I could really follow. The background and perspective on urban education was a real strength and kind of got lost in the debate details.
Mrs. Thomas Dibinga
Jun 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: teachers, students, anyone interested in urban education, policy debate or Urban Debate Leagues
Shelves: education, nonfiction
I probably ought to give this book a 3 because of certain annoyances I have with the author's fascination with ghetto teen life that, at times, become more about the author's views than about his subjects' lives. This is, however, too important a story and one that is told well enough for me to still highly recommend that it be read.
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I’m an assistant professor of writing at Columbus State University in Georgia, and I’ve written for Vibe, Salon and Popular Science. My first book, Cross-X, won a William Rockhill Nelson Award and a Harry Chapin Media Award and was named one of the best nonfiction books of 2006 by the Chicago Tribune, Kansas City Star and Publisher’s Weekly.
More about Joe Miller

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