Posts Tagged ‘Erin Gruwell’

This video is from this past June, but I saw it just the other day and I wanted to address the issue. The story is very interesting, so I encourage anyone reading this to watch the video I’ve included below. For those of you who would rather not, I’ll summarize: high school teacher Connie Hearman of Indiana was suspended from teaching for over a year for insubordination. She had tried teaching her students from The Freedom Writers Diary, a culmination of student works from a class taught by Erin Gruwell, a teacher who inspired her students, many of whom were involved in gangs, to rise above the hardships of their lives. The majority of those students went on to college, when before taking Erin Gruwell’s class, they kept their aspirations minimal, confined within the present, aware that the danger of the streets could take their lives any day. This inspirational book is often taught in schools, and Mrs. Hearman was sure it could change the lives of her students. However, the school board told Mrs. Hearman she was not allowed to teach the book due to vile language. Seeing her students engaged in the text, Mrs. Hearman didn’t have the heart to take the books away. She made a risky move and the consequence was a job suspension without pay.

I have to wonder, where does a teacher draw the line? This woman obviously cares for her students. Her goal is not only to teach them, but to change their lives. She seeks to inspire her students. But how far is too far? She had to know the risk she was taking by disobeying the school board.

Barbara Thompson, the school board president, stated,

“What troubles me is that Connie Hearman made a conscious choice to send our children a very poor message in that, if you’re told no, do it anyway. If it feels good do it.”

I believe Barbara Thompson’s statement debases the message that Connie Hearman sent her students. Connie Hearman did not allow her students to read The Freedom Writer’s Diary to spite the school board. Although her actions didn’t align with the school board’s desires, she was not rebelling for the sake of rebelling. She was not doing what “feels good”. She was doing what felt right. She believed the book could change her students’ lives! If anything, she was sending a positive message: when you know something is right, persist.

As trite as it is, I’d like to compare Connie Hearman to a national heroine: Rosa Parks was also a rule-breaker. She broke the “rules” by staying put in her bus seat when there was no where for a white person to sit. A small protest in order to fight for what she believed in. She was one of many who set the Civil Rights Movement in motion. Without people in this country who are willing to question right and wrong, we turn into a nation of bobble-heads, molded by our environments and always nodding our heads with a fake smile to boot.

I’d like to shake Connie Hearman’s hand. That is the kind of teacher I aspire to be, someone who cares for my students to the point where I am willing to risk my job in order to teach what I believe to be the most life-changing. Some people may think that getting suspended is counter-productive, considering a teacher is pretty useless when he or she is jobless, but I would venture to guess that this news story stirred up a lot of controversy in that Indiana town. Controversy sparks change, ladies and gentlemen. Sometimes you have to put everything on the line in order to stretch out the boundaries you’re confined to.


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