Hope Against Hope: Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America’s Children by Sarah Carr.
Bloomsbury Press, New York, 2013.
Nonfiction, 317 pages including notes, bibliography, and index.
The story of how a wave of mostly outsider-led charter schools are dramatically changing education in New Orleans, through a year long 2010 study of three different schools.
Carr took such an interesting tactic in this book, and not one I would have thought of myself. She worked closely with three different people: a student, a teacher, and a principal. They are all at different schools, each with its own take on solving the education crisis and its own method for resolving the problems that the 2005 hurricane have only exacerbated.
Geraldlynn Stewart is a student at the new KIPP Renaissance High School, but she’s familiar with the system from her middle school, KIPP Believe. She wasn’t initially interested in KIPP (her family pushed her into it) but grew to love her middle school. She’s more wary about this new school though, and concerned about the lack of freedoms, inconsistent teaching, and whether she actually wants to go to college.
Aidan Kelly is a new teacher at Sci Academy, an ambitious charter school that’s still cutting teeth itself. He graduated from Harvard without a solid plan, but found himself interviewing for Teach for America. He is one of the few alums to continue a teaching career past the initial two year commitment, but he’s struggling with the transition from his TFA placement (where his efforts were seen as above and beyond) to this charter school job where excellence is an expectation he has yet to meet.
Mary L. H. Laurie is the principal of O. Perry Walker High. She’s one of the few established and experienced black New Orleans educators to still work in the education system there, since most were laid off while displaced from the hurricane. Those who were rehired were given demeaning tests, and often seemed to be just holding a place until a white-led charter school could move in.
Of course the story is not limited to just these characters, but they serve as the driving force of the narrative. We follow their stories most closely, and other information is just a detour. I’ll admit that at first I did not like this methodology one bit. It felt unfair to have characters from such different positions in such different schools. I didn’t see how you could compare the opinions and experiences fairly. But by the end of this book I recognized that Carr presented this book in the best way possible.
The various threads subtly weave together and any open-minded reader will begin to see the merits and demerits of each side. While one can guess at Carr’s own opinion, and some of the people featured state theirs freely, she never makes a pronouncement or asks us to choose sides. Both sides have merit and it is up to the reader to decide what, if any, conclusions should be drawn. Any book group or teacher’s reading group that wanted to tackle this title would have some interesting points to discuss.
Needless to say, I highly recommend this. It does get into technicalities here and there, but I think they could be understood in context even if you don’t have any education background.
This is not a children’s book – it does contain swears, violence and other references as those things affect the lives of students and even teachers at the schools profiled. Hurricane Katrina also comes up several times. But I think a teen interested in education could profitably read this if they weren’t bothered by those things.