BkRev #1782: The Battle for Room 314: My Year of Hope and Despair in a New York City High School. (2016). Ed Boland. New York City: Grand Central Publishing, 239 pp. $26.00. ISBN: 978-1-4555-6061-5
NYU Stern Undergraduate Advising
New York University
In the first five pages of The Battle for Room 314: My Year of Hope and Despair in a New York City High School, Ed Boland sets the reader up with a stark contrast between the chaos of a New York City public high school classroom and the lavish perks of the private sector job he gave up in order to teach underprivileged NYC students. Boland is a white, gay male who had held prestigious jobs at Yale and Princeton before he decided to work with Project Advance, a program that “finds the most promising minority kids…and prepares them to excel…at…New York City private schools” (Boland, 2016, p. 6). Despite the exceptional salary and the gratification of watching students succeed through participation in this program, Ed yearned to work directly with students. The Battle for Room 314 chronicles Boland’s experiences at Union Street School, a public school in New York City, which ultimately, after one year, extinguished his teaching career but spurred a call to action for all citizens to work to improve the larger institutional systems that inhibit access to an equitable education.
Ed Boland was excited to start teaching at a school that promised an international studies curriculum and greater teacher autonomy in management and curriculum choice. In reality, not much learning happened at Union Street School. Freddy was too busy running a drug ring, Kameron was threatening to blow up the school, and Yvette was prostituting herself to pay for her second abortion. Some days Boland mustered some reenergized determination and developed innovative lesson plans that had at least some students attempting to complete the assignments. However, at the end of the year, facing the disappointment of negligible academic progress by the students, Boland accepted an offer to rejoin Project Advance.
The frustration of working with students like his would have been worthwhile had Boland felt he had made a difference in any of the students’ lives. The author kept in touch with some of his Union Street pupils and found out how they were faring after leaving high school. Most did not attend college and those who did were caught in the for-profit system which left them crippled with debt and not any better off than when they enrolled. Boland does a great job of illustrating that there are various factors affecting a student’s life in and out of school and emphasizing how valuable it is to reach out to support disadvantaged students sooner rather than later.
The Battle for Room 314 provides insight into the realities of disadvantaged public schools and offers some solutions to a systematic, nation-wide issue. The book is not meant to discourage educators from aiding this student population. On the contrary, Ed Boland pushes everyone with a role in the educational process in America to reform funding, educational research, and teacher training; to innovate; to end poverty; and to integrate schools. While not a top ten resource, the ultimate value of this book for advisers is to vicariously experience the struggles many disadvantaged minority students face when trying to obtain an education.