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A Hope in the Unseen

August 11, 2010

I spent my day yesterday writing an essay on a book I had to read for college, “A Hope in the Unseen”. It’s all about some inner city DC kid who went through really bad schools and then eventually went to some Ivy League school against all odds or something. I don’t know, I only finished 1/3 of the book. Enough to know what to write. Anyways, this is sort of politicky, my brain hurts too much to write something like normal, and I’m pretty proud of the finished product, so here it is.

The Question: Ultimately, is the book optimistic or not? Does Cedric’s success offer “hope in the unseen” for other economically disadvantaged students, or does it indict the education system for failing so many in his community?

While this book does acknowledge the “hope in the unseen” and the fact that it is not impossible to succeed as Cedric does, this book is also aimed at exposing the poor educational situation of lower socioeconomic areas. The acceptance of one of these options does not mean that the other is automatically untrue; in fact, the opposite of that is the point that the author is trying to prove. By citing Cedric’s example, the author argues that with proper parental involvement and a better educational experience (exemplified by his teacher Clarance Taylor) the “hope in the unseen” can be obtained by everyone if the community consciousness is able to change.

The first several chapters of the book are aimed at exposing the poor quality of parental figures in this corner of America and their subsequent effect on the lives of their children in a vicious cycle that thrives on mediocrity and irresponsibility. The lack of adequate parents in the lives of these children allows them to grow up in a society that values and revolves around violence, drugs, crime, and socioeconomic contentedness. As the children become adults they emulate the values that they are brought up with; many children don’t have father figures, therefore they don’t see the need to be around when their son is born. Mothers don’t feel the need to make a child stay in and do their homework. Education takes a back seat, and the result after 18 years is a troubled but content criminal that raises another troubled but content criminal. This cycle will continue until major changes are made. An example of how this could be different is Cedric. His mother cares about him and his education, and her insistence on adequate discipline, her (and therefore Cedric’s) reliance on religion as a way to provide a means of enforcement for the values she attempts to pass onto Cedric, and her genuine belief in him allows him to succeed in ways barely imaginable to most in his socioeconomic and geographic area.

This book also argues for educational reform and responsibility in the school system. Teachers should not be surprised when someone does their homework. They should also not be afraid of their students. The teachers in this book are clearly being controlled by the students, and unless that control switches the educational process will remain virtually irrelevant. Cedric respects the teachers and does his assignments, and in the end he is rewarded for it. The teachers in this story truly have very little power; the educational system, while it could be improved, is at the mercy of the community consciousness. Educators can only do so much to teach a child that doesn’t want to learn. It is, therefore, not the fault of the educational system as much as it is the fault of the community for not valuing the benefits of education. The area schools could improve; teachers need to demand control of their classroom rather than submit to the will of the students. The students, however, must be willing to accept the American drive to better themselves and their situation. Accepting the fact that if they don’t pay attention in school they can live out the rest of their lives basking in their low to zero income inner DC hell is the worst thing that can happen to a high school student in that socioeconomic bracket.

Is the book optimistic? Is it pessimistic? No. This book is realist. It presents the horrors of the worst of our educational systems and communities and then provides Cedric as an example of how the bad parts can be fixed. Why realism? Because the fate of these communities is unknown. Cedric represents a way to improve the system. Whether the community will see his example and take it into account is yet to be seen. There is a significant chance that the educational environment, or lack thereof, will stay the same or even become worse. That, however, is entirely up to the community, and optimism or pessimism has no place in a piece of literature that presents the objective reality of the situation.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Aptronym permalink
    August 11, 2010 6:06 pm

    There’s an excerpt of a book here (http://www.mondaybooks.com/mrchalk/mrchalk.html) that is an insider’s look at the education problems faced in Britain. I imagine it might be insightful to the kinds of problems you’re talking about. Also, great job on the essay.

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