What I'm Reading: "Hope against Hope" by Sarah Carr

I was at the bookstore yesterday and noticed a new book I hadn't seen before the the education section. It's called "Hope against Hope" by Sarah Carr and it is a journalistic account of three charter schools in New Orleans. I picked it up and even though I've only read the first 40 pages, I can't put it down...

I get the sense that Sarah Carr has an opinion about the values of many tenets of the education reform movement, but in contrast to many other authors who've written on the same subject, reading this book feels as if her opinion was formed as a result of her experience researching, and not as a result of a pre-conceived agenda. I've been impressed already with the way that she approaches this politically polarizing issue with novel insights, critical questioning, and broad perspective. Carr details in the prologue how she sees the conflict over urban education in New Orleans as less about "entrenched partisan politics than competing visions for how to combat racial inequality in America" (4). She continues on pages 4-5,

"Those [competing] visions, framed initially in the decades after Reconstruction by Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois, have evolved and shifted over time with the changing context, and it would be facile to argue that a complete personification of either man's arguments exists today. Yet they continue to shape the debate over most of modern America's most pressing social issues, including education, housing policy, affirmative action, welfare, and race relations. Acording to one vision, which many leaders of the modern educaton reform movement accept, poor minorities will rise out of poverty and thrive only if they find a way to fit into the country's capitalistic traditions and outlook. This vision, championed initially by Washington, is pragmatic in its approach and puts more emphasis on blacks finding a home in the nation's economic structures than political ones. It prioritizes collaboration with whites, and finding solutions that are acceptable to both races.

The other vision is ... more confrontational in its approach. Its adherents do not believe that blacks should try to fit themselves into an agenda defined by white elites. Instead they should set their own agenda, using their own rules, on their own turf. This vision prioritizes policital over economic capital, and has helped foster black power and nationalism movements. It disregards compromise and appeasement under the tenet that what the white power structure deems acceptable – in this case charter schools – will usually be bad for blacks."

I've never considered how the debate over charter schools could be related to this philosophical divide, but I can definitely imagine how strong opinions would influence someone's view and take on the relative merits of a charter school. Also, the dichotomy betweeen primarily valuing economic capital or political capital as a means for social change is a fascinating idea to me. I feel that it's important to be explicit about assumptions and experiences that people hold when trying to figure out why they disagree. I really appreciate this focus from Carr and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the book.

I'll try and post more thoughts as I get through the book. Pick up a copy! I don't think you'll be disappointed.

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