Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Teacher Suspended for Using "Freedom Writers Diary"

In case you missed it, CNN reported Sunday that an Indiana teacher was suspended for a year and a half (!) because she tried to read The Freedom Writers Diary with her English classes. Erin Gruwell herself appealed to the school board, who (you might want to sit down for this shocker!) came across as if they hadn't even read the entire book. This all happened a few months ago, but was just picked up by CNN. Here's the video (about 4 minutes long):

I taught Algebra last year, but during our advisory/reading period, we read this book. I didn't even take the precautionary step of sending home a permission slip as this teacher had! At first, even my students were taken aback by the direct, uncensored language. There were some snickers and laughs, but I told them quite plainly that this book contained some language that might be considered inappropriate, and that I expected them to act like young adults. If they couldn't handle it, we wouldn't read it. That stopped all of the problems right there, and we were able to read the entire book without incident.

I'm sure the first few pages is all these empty suits read before "banning" the book. Anyone who has actually read the book themselves, especially with a class, knows two key things:
  1. The "inappropriate" language tapers off quickly.
  2. This is one of the most inspirational and important books they've ever read.
My students, all of whom came from a low-income community and faced the same kinds of challenges (as I've already written about this week, twice), were sincerely moved by the book. Many even asked if we could replicate the Freedom Writers book project, even though we weren't in an English class! All of these students were reluctant readers, but they were full engrossed in this wonderful book. They begged to see the movie version, which we watched after our standardized testing was over.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to any teacher that wants to truly engage their students.

Connie Heermann, the teacher who was suspended, is a hero in my book. She said she will not return to the classroom unless she's allowed to use the book. I admire her for standing by her principles, and fighting for the benefit of her students.

You can read some interesting local reactions to this situation in this post at the Advance Indiana blog.