Monday, June 30, 2008

Connie Heermann and The Freedom Writer's Diary

I just watched a CNN story about Connie Heermann, a high school teacher for 27 years at Perry Meridian High School in Indiana, who was suspended for a year and a half by the school board for assigning her students to read The Freedom Writer's Diary. The book is based on the true story of Erin Gruwell and made into a movie and contains bad language. Heermann had previously attended the Freedom Writers Institute training, a program for teachers about Gruwell’s three-stage process for student success: Engage, Enlighten and Empower. Heermann felt her students faced many of the same issues as Gruwell's students, almost all of whom went on to college. "The odds are against them to graduate," she explained. "Some have experienced abuse, gangs and juvenile detention centers, and others have emancipated from their parents." (from the Southside Times, 6/29/08).

Heermann found a sponsor to pay for the 175 books and sent home permission slips, explaining the project, and allowing for an alternate book, The Wave, to be read if parents objected. All but one student had permission to read the book. She also received the principals permission, but still needed the permission of the assistant superintendent. When she didn't hear back in three months, she handed out the books to her students, but later in the day, she received an email from the principal asking her not to distribute books until there was further discussion. The administration found the book to be inappropriate for the classroom and she was asked to collect the books back from the students. At that point, Heermann made the decision NOT to collect the books.

Even though no teacher has ever been suspended or fired for using The Freedom Writer's Diary, and even though Gruwell attended the school board meeting in an effort to defend Heermann, the school board suspended her for a year and a half; she won't be able to teach again until September, 2009. One school board member said that even though Heermann had the parents' permission, she attempted to use the book without school board permission, sending the message to her students, "if it feels good, do it." But, what is the message the board sent to the kids? How many of these board members really know where these kids come from and the conditions they have to live in everyday? If they did, I suspect bad language would be the least of their worries.

Hmmmm...let's look at the facts:
  • Heermann received training from Gruwell who has successfully taught inner city kids;
  • Heermann received permission the use the book from all but one parent;
  • Heermann received permission to use the book from her principal;
  • Heermann is a veteran teacher who teaches kids from poor, dangerous neighborhoods and has the best interest of her kids at heart;
  • Heerman is suspended for insubordination.
What do you think? Is Heermann a rogue teacher or was the board's decision censorship?

Thanks to Under The Tree and Reading for alerting me to this story.

1 comment:

Tom Heermann said...

Thank you for your great article on Connie's 18 month suspension.
Sorry I am responding so late (we've been a little busy here).

Recently Connie was covered by local WISH TV Channel 8 (Indianapolis) as she was going to California to receive more personal training from Erin Gruwell. The reporter also interviews the new Perry Township Board president, Steve Maple. Instead of commenting on Connie's continued dedication to teaching by attending the workshop in the summer(remember she is suspended without pay) the board president just complains about bad media coverage. Maple even comments that he receives emails from around the world about Connie's situation -- yet says no more about it.

I urge you to see it. Click below. Tell us what you think.

Tom Heermann
Better known as "Connie's husband"