Hope Against Hope: Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America's Children

Sarah Carr, Author
Sarah Carr. Bloomsbury, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-1-60819-490-2
Reviewed on: 11/26/2012
Release date: 02/26/2013
Open Ebook - 336 pages - 978-1-60819-495-7
Paperback - 316 pages - 978-1-60819-513-8
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Aiming to distill the difficulties and possibilities facing American educational reform, journalist Carr follows three people at three charter schools—14-year-old student Geraldlynn Stewart, idealistic young teacher Aidan Kelly, and dedicated principal Mary Laurie—as they navigate competing visions of education and civil rights in post-Katrina New Orleans. While the book's time period (2005–2012) sees a general if qualified upswing in student performance, Carr still finds the city, for all its unique history, emblematic of a continuing national crisis of "decayed infrastructure, overwhelmed social services, long-simmering racial tensions, and gross inequalities." Her protagonists' perspectives capture subtleties rarely probed in a national debate more preoccupied with test scores, corporatization, and teachers' unions: discipline, gun violence, and the unmet needs of students facing a wide range of physical and mental problems. Carr, for her part, critiques the increasingly prevalent charter school system, which now serves roughly two million students, for its paternalism, unforgiving "no-excuses" approach, and rigidly college-oriented ethos. Her scholastic prescription is holistic, understanding and embracing the wider social circumstances of a child's learning process by balancing quality teaching against the self-determination and cultural values of that child's particular community. Agent: Farley Chase, Farley Literary. (Feb.)
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