Voices of Hope: The Story of the Jane Addams School for Democracy


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The Jane Addams School for Democracy is no ordinary school. Its diverse staff and students include refugee and immigrant adults and children; faculty and students from nine Twin Cities colleges and universities; and community residents. And 10 years after the school opened, more than 1,500 of its participants had become U.S. citizens. There are no formal classes at the Jane Addams School. Instead, people organize in learning circles and work together in pairs, usually mixing English speakers with Hmong-, Spanish-, or Somali-speaking people. There is no charge to attend, and there are no fixed courses. Individuals participate as long as they wish.

Edited by school cofounders Nan Kari and Nan Skelton, Voices of Hope is an engaging account of the Jane Addams School as told through the voices of the school’s participants. The book features 22 essays by 12 writers, including nonnative English speakers, and more than 75 photos. The essays cover a variety of topics, including the founding of the school, its important role in providing a space for democratic work, an American groom’s touching story of his traditional Somali wedding, inspirational reflections by a language instructor on how the school influenced her approach to teaching, and a poignant tale of one refugee’s journey from Laos to America.

Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE (Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement), said of this book: “Voices of Hope is an essential contribution to the debate about public education in America. Its subject . . . does not belong to the government. It is not a nonprofit corporation. It does not grant diplomas or give grades. Yet, in a profound sense, it is a ‘public school,’ a model of what happens when Americans of all ages and backgrounds come together voluntarily to create knowledge, understanding, and power.”

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Public Education

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