The Road Out: A Teacher’s Odyssey in Poor America by Deborah Hicks – My observations, lessons and takeaways

(I present my synopsis for this book at today’s Urban Engagement Book Club, sponsored by CitySquare).


“vital and enriching…  should be required reading for every American who’s concerned with education of the poorest and most forgotten in our society.”  Stephen King, front cover.

The Road OutI’ve just completed my synopsis handout for the book The Road Out: A Teacher’s Odyssey in Poor America by Deborah Hicks. It is a good, moving book – but a tough book to read.

I’m actually finding that a lot these days – in my social justice reading. Like so many others, I came away more with “what a big problem we face” than I did with “oh, this solution will work…”

The author Deborah Hicks came from a background of serious poverty, and pretty much on her own made it to and through college (of course with help and encouragement from some), and then graduate school, earning a Doctorate from Harvard. Hers is a success story, one filled with adversity.

But, because she succeeded in her pursuit does not mean that hers is a formula to follow to guarantee the success of others. And this book is close to fully…heartbreaking.

This book is her story of her one reading class, lasting over four school years, in a poor area of Cincinnati (Lower Price Hill). There are moments of hope, and partly from her efforts, two of her six students finished high school, and may go further. (Or, maybe not).

She describes the alternative education approaches her students ended up pursuing in their later school years (the names are pseudonyms):

Blair was soon to enter a shadow system of schooling that exists for the poor and working classes, where online high schools, alternative schools, and GED programs exist to offer the most basic ticket, a diploma, even if they do not come near the quality of a first-rate high school learning experience.
There exists a shadow system of high school education for young people living in the margins of access and opportunity. There are online high schools, GED programs, and “alternative” schools that coexist alongside the public and private high schools that offer a real chance at democratic access. After her stint in the jail system, Mariah entered this shadow world of schooling.

I can, and do recommend that you add this book to your reading stack. There are great stories, all revolving around this one small group of girls.

Here are my observations, lessons, and takeaways:

#1 – The closer you get to really small groups, the better the experience.
#2 – Read, and discuss, and write, and laugh, and… It almost does not matter what you read. (Although, let the participants “choose” the books).
#3 – Stephen King, and his depiction of horror, really resonated with this group…
#4 – If you quit too soon, the results may not last…
#5 – You can’t “teach” your way out of really bad circumstances for all the students.
#6 – A “slight” can hurt, and linger. (Mrs. Bush came to the school – but not for this group).
#7 – The shadow education system for the neediest may not work very well.
#8 – Maybe the short-lived attempt brought enough dignity in and of itself…


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