Freshman Summer Reading Project aptly introduces students to New Orleans

Emily Carmichael, Contributing Reporter

The following is an opinion article and opinion articles do not reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo.

Sarah Carr’s “Hope Against Hope: Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America’s Children,” the topic of this year’s freshman summer reading project, shows incoming students a side of New Orleans not found on the admissions website. The book introduces a class of freshmen hailing mostly from out of state to some of the prevailing issues, such as education and poverty, in their new southern Louisiana home.

“Hope Against Hope” recounts the year Carr spent shadowing a local student, teacher and principal as she surveyed the effectiveness of New Orleans’s sweeping education reforms post-Hurricane Katrina. Newcomb-Tulane College Dean James MacLaren said it is critical to understand how to improve education in America’s impoverished areas in order to find solutions to current and future social problems, and Carr’s book provides quality insight on this issue.

After Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana state government made a radical move and instituted the Recovery School District in New Orleans. The district fired all of the teachers, not all of whom were rehired, and established a large number of independent charter schools, many of which replaced traditionally-run schools. While test scores have improved, critics accuse the new system of shortchanging low-performing students in the name of better test scores and not fully respecting New Orleans culture. These critics question the long-term effectiveness of this non-holistic approach to education.

Carr’s use of personal vignettes helps connect students to the reality of the New Orleans education system. She writes that Mary Laurie, the principal of O. Perry Walker High School, mourns the loss of a popular student, Brandon Franklin, to gun violence. She views his death as a mandate calling her school help the community. Aidan Kelly, the teacher Carr shadows, almost quits because of the frustration he has reaching his students. The student, Geraldlynn Stewart, questions whether or not she will be smart enough to get into college, or if beauty school would be a better route.

By nature of gaining admission to Tulane, freshmen most likely had a high-quality high school education, absent of these kind of experiences. Carr shows these students the reality of a world where quality education is not guaranteed, and the harsh impact this can have on somebody’s life.

As Tulane students, freshman are stepping into a foreign world. This world not only challenges students to learn to live on their own for the first time, but to do so in the vibrant, yet complicated, New Orleans culture. “Hope Against Hope” makes students aware of what is happening in their new home, not only in the context of education, but in the context of a struggling community trying to better itself and the people it serves.

Emily Carmichael is a freshman in the Newcomb-Tulane College. She can be reached for comment at [email protected].