The Road Out: A Teacher's Odyssey in Poor America

Overview

Can one teacher truly make a difference in her students? lives when everything is working against them? Can a love for literature and learning save the most vulnerable of youth from a life of poverty? The Road Out is a gripping account of one teacher?s journey of hope and discovery with her students?girls growing up poor in a neighborhood that was once home to white Appalachian workers, and is now a ghetto. Deborah Hicks, set out to give one group of girls something she never had: a first-rate education, and a ...

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The Road Out: A Teacher's Odyssey in Poor America

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Overview

Can one teacher truly make a difference in her students’ lives when everything is working against them? Can a love for literature and learning save the most vulnerable of youth from a life of poverty? The Road Out is a gripping account of one teacher’s journey of hope and discovery with her students—girls growing up poor in a neighborhood that was once home to white Appalachian workers, and is now a ghetto. Deborah Hicks, set out to give one group of girls something she never had: a first-rate education, and a chance to live their dreams. A contemporary tragedy is brought to life as she leads us deep into the worlds of Adriana, Blair, Mariah, Elizabeth, Shannon, Jessica, and Alicia-seven girls coming of age in poverty.

This is a moving story about girls who have lost their childhoods, but who face the street’s torments with courage and resiliency. “I want out,” says 10-year-old Blair, a tiny but tough girl who is extremely poor and yet deeply imaginative and precocious. Hicks tries to convey to her students a sense of the power of fiction and of sisterhood to get them through the toughest years of adolescence. But by the time they’re sixteen, eight years after the start of the class, the girls are experiencing the collision of their youthful dreams with the pitfalls of growing up in chaotic single-parent families amid the deteriorating cityscape. Yet even as they face disappointments and sometimes despair, these girls cling to their desire for a better future. The author’s own life story—from a poorly educated girl in a small mountain town to a Harvard-educated writer, teacher, and social advocate—infuses this chronicle with a message of hope.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"It's become a standard book and movie trope: An idealistic teacher walks into a classroom of hardened, at-risk students and strives to reach them.But the outlines of the story, while familiar, can still surprise and inspire."--Boston Globe Book Section
Boston Globe Book Section
“It’s become a standard book and movie trope: An idealistic teacher walks into a classroom of hardened, at-risk students and strives to reach them.But the outlines of the story, while familiar, can still surprise and inspire.”
Library Journal
Educator Hicks (education, Duke Univ.) relates the intimate story of her experience teaching a literary workshop to young girls in a poor Cincinnati neighborhood. She explores the quotidian question of how to improve the results of public schools serving impoverished communities by focusing on seven initially third- and fourth-grade students in whom she invested four years of extracurricular literature and writing instruction to infuse a passion for these subjects that would produce a desire to learn more. As a mentor to girls whose backgrounds in many ways mirrored her own, Hicks started by explaining how literature has the power to expand one's horizons while she simultaneously focused on literature that depicts troubles all too familiar and that helped her students to make sense of the outside world. Hicks observed that a sincere desire for education could not alone guarantee that students would avoid truancy or earn a high school diploma. VERDICT By illuminating this schism and depicting her students as vividly in words as in the included photographs, Hicks offers a testimony to the "teacher experience" and contributes a valuable resource to the national discussion on school reform. Highly recommended for educators and others studying American public education.—Marianne Orme, Des Plaines P.L., IL
Kirkus Reviews
A moving memoir depicting a teacher's experience leading a literary workshop for gifted young girls from a forsaken neighborhood in Cincinnati. "Though I grew up in small-town Appalachia and my students were coming of age in an urban ghetto," writes Hicks (Program in Education/Duke Univ.), "we were connected." Her students were descendants of Appalachian migrants who moved North for jobs that have since vanished. In 2000, while volunteering as a teacher, Hicks decided to experiment with an after-school and summer program that emphasized literature and creative writing for a small group of girls over time. Most of the girls in the class "had lost their mothers to drugs, neglect, and the debilitating effect of poverty," while fathers tended to be abusive or absent. Yet Hicks found them responsive to books and authors that explored the world via working-class or female protagonists (as well as the transgressive release of horror fiction, which the girls loved). She describes mentoring a core group of eight girls from ages 8 to 12; she reconnected with them at 16. Her carefully constructed memoir fleshes out the girls as characters, capturing their inner ambitions and innate creativity; yet this makes the economic forces stacked against them at their young ages even clearer, giving this tale a grueling, ominous undertone. "I began to realize... that there exists a shadow system of high school education for young people living in the margins of access and opportunity," writes Hicks. In the epilogue, she asserts that even though "the lives of poor and working-class whites have come under increased scrutiny in the media," a post-secondary education remains both challenging and vital for those looking to escape poverty and achieve social mobility. A valuable look at the intellectual lives (and fragile potential) of girls buffeted by American social realities, and an excellent reflection on the challenges of teaching.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520283916
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 8/13/2014
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 296
  • Sales rank: 790,045
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Deborah Hicks has written about the lives of children for two decades. She works in the Program in Education at Duke University and directs an educational program for girls in Appalachia.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Author’s Note

Introduction: A Teacher on a Mission
Part I. Childhood Ghosts
1. Ghost Rose Speaks
2. Elizabeth Discovers Her Paperback
3. We’re Sisters!
Part II. My Life as a Girl
4. Girl Talk
5. A Magazine Is Born
6. Mrs. Bush Visits (But Not Our Class)
7. A Saturday at the Bookstore
8. Jessica Finds Jesus, and Elizabeth Finds Love
9. Blair Discovers a Voice
Part III. Leavings
10. At Sixteen
11. Girlhood
Interrupted
12. I Deserve a Better Life
13. The Road Out
Epilogue
Notes

Index

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