Witnessing Hope

In the following post, Dr. Darolyn “Lyn” Jones, Assistant Professor of English, writes of an inspiring and unique project from Indianapolis Star journalist, Matthew Tully, who turned an investigative column into a full-scale memoir. In conjunction with his new book, Tully will give a presentation on November 14th in Studabaker West at 11:30 AM in which he will discuss this inspired story and answer audience questions.

Matthew Tully is an Indianapolis Star Political Columnist.  Matthew writes prolifically on the state of education in the greater Indianapolis area.  Matthew spent a year profiling Emmerich Manual High School, #715, in the heart of Indianapolis.  He exemplifies the journalist writer who enters the scene and can see what is not only newsworthy, but what is worthy of enduring understanding.

Matthew came to Manual High School with no real plan.  He didn’t know if he was going to write one column or ten columns.   He wasn’t sure if he would stay one day or six weeks.  He wasn’t even sure if Manual’s staff and students would tire of his presence and questions, if they would allow him to place their school under his journalist microscope.  But once there he realized there were so many compelling student stories that had to be told, that he needed to stay there, report, and write.  He wanted to give those stories a voice. He committed a full year to Manual generating an article every week, now part of the Manual Project.

I, like most Indianapolis Star readers, was hooked.  We eagerly awaited the next article.  Would Tully write about a disruptive and violent student’s encounter with the school police officer?  Would Tully write about the effective and ineffective teachers he observed?  Would Tully share how the choir department had no funding to perform a concert?  Would Tully talk about a student with Autism who overcame one obstacle after another to every day, walk through the doors and try again?

His series of articles will be published this February as a memoir by Indiana University Press and is appropriately titled Searching for Hope: Life at a Failing School in the Heart of America.  I was honored to read an early draft of his work and I was mesmerized.  Unlike much of what I read in educational rhetoric, I couldn’t put this piece down.  As someone who has worked in English education for twenty years, I have listened to and read student’s descriptions about what school is really like and have read countless published professional teacher and administrator accounts about what school is really like.  The students’ favorite metaphor is that school is a prison.  Teachers often liken teaching to being “in the trenches.”  Neither is favorable or encouraging for those of us who believe that the American public education system, despite its problems, is still a thing that can educate and transform teachers and students.

Tully’s view was raw, but real and refreshing. He was able to see, capture, and write something very different.  He gave each stakeholder in the scene equal commitment.  He maintained a neutrality and just wrote what happened as it happened.  And in this play-by-play, we hear the truth.  Like life and people, schools are complex and messy.

There is, as Tully says, no one magic bullet, no one answer.  But as Tully revealed in his articles and in his memoir, there are students, teachers, parents, guidance counselors, school police officers, coaches, and community members who come to school day in and day out, week after week, and year after year, facing extra obstacles and challenges persevering to access the hope that is there.  Tully was a witness.

Come hear his testimony Monday, November 14 from 11:30 to 12:30 p.m. in Studabaker West .  His presentation will have time for questions and answers from the audience.

Read more about the Manual Project at   http://www.indystar.com/section/NEWS08&template=theme&theme=manual&tname=Manual%20Project

Check out Tully’s Twitter at

http://twitter.com/#!/matthewltully

See a video clip with Tully discussing his work at Manual at

http://www.indystar.com/VideoNetwork/89245315001/Matt-Tully-on-his-Manual-series

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