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tv   Book Discussion on The Road Out  CSPAN  November 27, 2014 3:34pm-3:58pm EST

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>> book tv is on the campus of duke university where we are talking with professors and scholars about some of there books. joining us here is deborah hicks, her book "the road out: a teacher's odyssey in poor america." what do you do here at duke, first of all? >> i have a couple of things i do, part of a research unit. that is a unit composed of people doing research in the social sciences. then i am also a social entrepreneur. there i work with appalachian girls in middle school and help them get educational opportunity and access. i have a couple of different hats.
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>> social entrepreneur, is that a knew term? >> i think it was coined by people like nicholas kristof, but it is widely used now for people like me who direct nonprofits and do different things in the nonprofit sector. >> how did you get involved with appalachian girls in middle school? >> that is a long story i write about in "the road out". i grew up as a working-class girl. the first in my family to go to college which was a big step for me and ended up, through a scholarship, going to college and doing super wrong in college and ended up going on and getting a graduate degree from harvard in education.
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that long journey i experienced came back to my native soul, north carolina, and founded this nonprofit. >> when you say you work with appalachian girls, what do you do? >> i teach. i teach. i, we, the people who work with me have created this out of school opportunity for girls in the most rural and remote parts. they come to an intensive summer program, have meetings with volunteers, and we offer these girls who otherwise don't have opportunity for summer learning and enrichment and intensive and wonderful educational program. they come into our program from all over the mountains of north carolina and do
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digital literacy learning, write, read literature, and get a really intensive summer learning experience through the nonprofit that i direct. >> in "the road out," who are adriana, blair,, blair, maria, mariah, elizabeth, shannon, and alicia? >> seven amazing girls i got to know when i was teaching. i mentioned that i had gotten my college degree. i discovered this amazing neighborhood of appalachian people in the inner-city. it goes back to part of america's history when you had people moving north to
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look for jobs in cities like cincinnati and dayton and akron. i was teaching and found out that there was this community. i went there and said to the people, would you let me be a teacher in your elementary school and teach kids? and so i began i began teaching and got to know these seven girls. at that time they were only in second grade. i followed these girls into third and fourth grade. i said, do you want a class of your own? they said, yes. we will give this a try. i began meeting with these girls. we met every week and during the summer. this became an amazing
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experience, having a class of our own where we studied and read literature,, talked about stories, and mostly i listened to the girls dreams it was a place where they could dream and tell stories and read books. >> deborah hicks, how are these seven girls similar? >> they are poor, among the very poorest of american children. i left cincinnati in 2,009, came back to north carolina to found my nonprofit, but as i was later to learn, cincinnati in 2010 became the third worst city in the united states for child poverty in urban areas, third to detroit and cleveland, so one of the
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poorest cities in the us. part of that was appalachian poverty. all of these girls were poor many of them had moms who were -- had some drug issues the drug problem tends to be centered around the abuse of prescription painkillers like oxycontin. i i found out that many of my young students, eight, nine, ten, ten years old had moms who were doing drugs which was a common factor. >> how did that affect there outlook on life, their dreams? >> for many of these girls what i was to discover, they were essentially orphans to oxycontin and american
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poverty. so i was there teacher. our class became a family and they became like sisters yes, i was a teacher but it became like family, very intimate. at one time two of the girls , and one of them was blair and the other was adriana, they put their arms around one another and said, we are sisters. we often began our class with a snack and food to get things going. i said, what makes you sisters? they said, we just figured out both of our moms are on the street doing drugs.
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for them it was, we have become this family and the class was their sisterhood. >> did their childhood, what you were seeing, and did it reflect what you grew up with? >> to some extent. i was a working-class girl without opportunity or access. i was naïve about how college and school work, work, but the difference was, i was working-class. i think it was pretty common in those days, and i think in a rural communities you did tend to have families where you have a dad and mom in the house.
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my dad my dad was living in the household and had a job. that was different. they were just not part of there everyday lives, and the moms were starting to lose it because of the drug issues. so the families were ripped apart. what i saw, similar to what you see in other urban families, the grandmothers step in and start taking over and taking control. in fact, one of my students, her grandmother was her caretaker which was pretty common. >> how did you get to college? >> i have to be very grateful. a very naïve working-class girl. a little bit of an anomaly
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because i loved books and reading. because of that i did well in school. i knew nothing about college i got a letter in the mail saying that i had a scholarship. this wonderful group of women had given me a scholarship. >> how did you get connected with them? >> i honestly i honestly cannot remember. they probably heard about me through high school. i got i got a letter saying, you have been given a scholarship. i ended up being able to go off to college. once i got in i did so well that it was easy to excel and keep going.
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>> deborah hicks, what was the hardest part of leaving your town, you're naïve this, as you say, and coming into college. >> the toughest is once you leave, the go elsewhere, you have to give up part of your childhood identity and who you are. there is a process of change to some extent it puts you at a little a little bit of a distance from your childhood and family. that part is difficult. for me it was great because i went on and have come back to help my own people, working-class people.
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i feel like i have had to give up some of who i was but can now come back and help the people like me. >> were you treated with suspicion back home? >> i think it is very perceptive. people like me who are bookish, poor, working-class, it is little bit little bit different, not exactly like everyone else around here. a little odd, more into books at my life than getting married or having babies, and you are a little bit different. i was seen as different, but luckily that did not stop me or hamper me. >> your work in cincinnati which you write about in your book, "the road out: a
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teacher's odyssey in poor america," was it sanctioned by the cincinnati public schools? >> they were phenomenal, colleagues, friends. to some extent i think that they were a little bit baffled about what i was i was doing. having this class for girls and reading literature. they were like, well, this, this is working out. i was trying to also bring back what i learned i learned from the class to the other classrooms. they were absolutely welcoming and wonder full. >> besides your class of seven what else did you bring differently? >> my own experience growing up i knew where the girls were coming from. we also did something unusual these days because now we have pressure from
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accountability to teach to the testing. and in urban, poor settings, that is tough for kids to do instead of doing that, i reread literature which is becoming more and more of an anomaly to talk about it in story. that was different. a little bit different for me. i am an old-fashioned literature persons. i write novels about characters. these girls, i tried to bring young adult fiction, things about girls like them >> such as? >> a blue-eyed daisy, stuff that was more about working-class or appalachian
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girls by authors who would speak to their concerns. my students wanted nothing of that. they turned their noses up at that and said, we don't want your kind, meaning your book, not book, not me as a person, but the book i was bringing in. their favorite was horror fiction. >> like vampire -- >> some of that. blair by the age of nine her favorite author was stephen king. they watched on television, red. trying to be this idealistic social justice teacher, trying to change the world. i finally just gave in and said, we will read horror fiction. that was transformative
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because they began becoming readers and enjoying reading eventually stephen king wrote a very nice blurb about my memoir. >> do you regret allowing the girls to read horror fiction? >> not at all. we did not read, actually read stephen king in my class. i did a bunch of research after i learned about this literary passion of theirs and found all of these wonderful stories for young kids. i managed to create a curriculum around scary stories, so we compromised. that was interesting. >> how long were you with
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these girls? >> for four years. and then i made a decision at come back to north carolina where i grew up and begin to found my own nonprofit. i had to leave, and that was tough as i left these girls when they were just entering adolescence. i kept up with them. we kept in touch via e-mail and facebook. but i laughed when they were in sixth grade. >> do you regret that? do you feel responsible? >> i do sometimes feel like if i had been able to stay, continue the class -- a number of them struggled upon entering adolescence. one became a teenage mom at the age of 16, finished high
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school, going on to study hairdressing. there was a time when there were a number of my students struggling. i knew that i had to come back to my native state and do my work here as a social entrepreneur. it was not really a a choice. i felt i had a calling. >> how old are they now? >> early 20s. >> very quickly, adriana, snapshot. >> adriana has finished high school, a very competitive and private high school. she went on kind of like hairdressing training a young mother.
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by every stretch she is doing quite well. some rough patches. >> blair. >> blair is more difficult to talk about. blair was a student who reminded me the most of myself, very precocious, a stephen king fan that first began. and her and her grandmother, who raised her, said that her vision was that blair would become a lawyer. a lawyer. she certainly had those talents. blair dropped out of school. she just could not finish high school. she kept trying and trying to go back and was not able to do that. the last i checked in, she was working the night cleaning job in an office building. >> maria.
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>> maria is married, divorced, another relationship, two lovely children,, finished high school, trying to go back to college, has not quite gotten there yet, left her partner, and is now a single mom. she is doing pretty well. >> elizabeth likes elizabeth has struggled as well. elizabeth has a very young child, a baby a little over a year ago and a fiancé. she almost finished high school,, did not pass one section of her science test.
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because of that was not allowed to finish high school. because of that she is a dropout. >> any plans to go back at this time? >> i would love to go back as soon as possible. i would i would love to go back at least once a year. i am hoping to go back in the fall. very busy. i run a nonprofit. i tried to keep up and visit as much as i can and stay in touch with these girls. >> very quickly, shannon, jessica, and alicia. >> alicia is the one who has left cincinnati. she got married to a servicemen, soldier. they moved away from cincinnati.
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she is married and has her first child. shannon and jessica are both struggled to finish high school and were not quite able. shannon did not finish high school. she became pregnant in high school and had a baby that died soon after birth, very premature. after that she began to kind of fall back and dropped out jessica dropped out as well but has gone back. she is, i think, engaged to be married. i know they would not be seen as having gone far with
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their professional careers but have done extremely well given what they were up against, which was a neighborhood of severe poverty and serious drug problems. none of them have touched drugs which is a huge thing in their favor, that they have not gone the way of their moms but said to themselves, we want something better for our lives. >> deborah hicks, where do you think you were successful, and where would you do things different? >> i think i think we were very successful, and intimacy, a super successful class, seven girls who were attaching themselves to school, loving literature, books. i think the bigg


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