In 2009, award-winning Indianapolis Star columnist Matthew Tully walked into the halls of Manual High School, a failing school in a rough Indianapolis neighborhood. Without so much as a glance, he had been granted unfiltered access to Manual for an entire school year. Little did he know what would become of it. In a series of columns for the Star, Tully began to tell the complex story of the everyday drama, failures, and triumphs in one of the nation’s many troubled urban public high schools. The community’s reaction was astounding. Newspapers weren’t dead.
On February 20, the Manual High School choir, the ManualAires, will perform during an event at Carnegie Hall, featuring composer Greg Gilpin (a Manual fan) and Clay Aiken, among other performers. The choir is a big portion of Tully’s new book, Searching for Hope: Life at a Failing School in the Heart of America. One of Tully's columns about the choir moved Star readers to mail in nearly $100,000 in donations and afforded the kids the opportunity to accept their invitation to perform. The donations came in increments of $2 to $20,000.
Tully’s book, set to release this month, is not a collection of these columns, but a first-person account of his experience, his time with students, parents, teachers, counselors, police, and administrators, and his assertion that schools like Manual are a national emergency and should be treated as such.
"A gritty, wonderfully honest investigation of life in an urban American high school in the 21st century. The despair, the apathy, the misplaced anger, the frustrations and fights for something better are all there. The school in Indianapolis where Tully spent so much time is close to what I have found in many big cities, but few reporters have gone as deep as Tully has,” said Jay Mathews of the Washington Post.
In this gripping story, Tully walks readers into classrooms, offices, and hallways, painting a vivid picture of the profound academic problems, deep frustrations, and apathy that absorb and often consume those within. Yet this intimate view also reveals the hopes, dreams, and untapped talents of some amazing individuals. Providing insights into the colossal challenges confronting those who seek to improve the quality of America’s schools, and those who do not, Tully argues that school leaders and policy makers must rally communities to heartfelt engagement with their schools if the crippling social and economic threats to cities such as Indianapolis are to be averted.
About the author
Matthew Tully is a political columnist for the Indianapolis Star. His columns on public schools have helped drive debate over education reform in Indiana. Tully’s commentary has appeared in the Wall Street Journal and Education Week, and he has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and numerous other national media outlets. He was named Indiana Journalist of the Year in 2008 and won the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism in 2010. For more information on the book, visit Tully's blog or listen to an IU Press podcast with him.