“Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America’s Children”
By Olivia Borgmann, Global Weeks summer intern
At the beginning of the summer I received a package on my doorstep from the college I will be attending in the fall. Curious to as to what bulky item they could be sending me so far from the start of school I opened it and found a book whose title intrigued me: Hope Against Hope. As a requirement at my school all incoming freshman are sent this book at the start of the summer and expected to have read by the time schools rolls around in the fall. What immediately grabbed by attention was the subject of the book: Education of America’s Children.
Hope Against Hope was written by Sarah Carr, an education journalist who lives in New Orleans. It follows the lives of a 14 year old student Geraldlynn as she attends KIPP Renaissance, a charter school in New Orleans; a 24 year old teacher Aidan Kelley who signed on to Teach For America in his senior year at Harvard; and Mary Laurie who became principal of one of the first public high schools to reopen after Katrina.
When I think of Hurricane Katrina and the havoc it wreaked it never crossed my mind that the whole education system would be in crisis mode as well. But I was truly appalled when I read that just days after the hurricane the New Orleans school board placed thousands of its employees on unpaid leave and then three months later effectively voted to fire them. On top of this the state took control out of the hands of the school board and placed it in the hands of the Recovery School District, meaning the locally elected school board as well as the teachers union no longer had control over what was happening.
While I have not yet finished the book, what I have read opened my eyes to the reality of the education system in many places in our country. The book focuses on the charter schools that were put in place as a result of the education crisis after Katrina. Living in Seattle these past few years I have heard a lot of discussion about charter schools, but until reading this book I didn’t have a solid idea of what they were or what I thought about them. Now after reading Hope Against Hope I strongly believe that charter schools are one answer to impoverished, struggling school districts. Not only do they create an atmosphere of structure and discipline but by being staffed by a diverse group of educators from programs such as Teach For America, they give kids a window into other cultures and ways of life they may never experience as well as a better representation of New Orleans many ethnicities and cultures.
What I love most about this book is how Carr chose to follow the stories of three people, all connected by their desire for educational success yet all different in their professional stages. It was Geraldlynn, perhaps because of our closeness in age, that I felt most connected to. Just like me she has hopes and dreams of what she will do with her life, just like me she has a curiosity and drive to succeed, but unlike me she and her family have to had to fight an unreasonably hard battle just get a decent education and overcome the violence and poverty that surrounds them.
This book has raised a lot of questions in my mind, mainly “what defines success?” Is it high test scores, one’s acceptance to a respectable college, a solid career or just staying a healthy balanced person through it all? As someone who has just finished the college application rat race and four years at a competitive high school I am preoccupied with this question. When can we stop and say to ourselves that we are successful? At what point can the educators faced with the insurmountable task of rebuilding the New Orleans schools from the ground up consider themselves successful?
I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the direction of education in America. I think that the discussions it generates are ones we need to be having. While there are many places around the world where youth don’t have access to a solid academic foundation the truth is that there are also many areas in our own country where kids are not getting the education they deserve because of countless obstacles they are faced with. Reading this book has made me want to learn a lot more about tactics Charter Schools like KIPP use to break past these barriers. I’m very interested as to the ideas and questions that this book raised for my classmates and can’t wait to discuss it with them when school begins in the fall.