Searching for Hope: Life at a Failing School in the Heart of America

Matthew Tully, Author
Matthew Tully. Indiana Univ., $28 (288p) ISBN 978-0-253-00593-9
Reviewed on: 03/05/2012
Release date: 02/01/2012
Open Ebook - 281 pages - 978-0-253-00597-7
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-280-12441-9
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In this evocative and sensitive account, Indianapolis Star journalist Tully investigates Emmerich Manual High, an Indianapolis school facing a state takeover, debilitating budget cuts, and the "apathy, low expectations, and assembly-line mentality" often associated with urban schools. Tully unblinkingly describes drug deals, violence, the desperation of pregnant students, absent and overwhelmed parents, bored teachers, and ineffectual (if well intentioned) leadership. He also offers honest moments of hope, as the book's title promises: college dreams are fulfilled; shattered families are reunited; special education students surpass all expectations; teenagers finally taste triumph at a choir concert and, briefly, on the football field; and a community comes alive with unexpected generosity. Despite self-conscious references to "fairytale ending[s]" and Hollywood films that simplify the complexities of urban education, Tully occasionally relies on simplified images of "typical American kid[s]." Though he claims that there is "no quick fix," he worships the hero-teacher whose energy and passion—reminiscent of pedagogical figures on the silver screen—can combat academic insouciance. However, Tully is "a journalist and not an education expert," and while the book offers no unfamiliar insight into the plight of urban schools, it does give a powerful, ultimately genuine voice to the complicated, imperfect individuals whose victories and hopes are often unreported. Photos. (Feb.)
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