Things I am passionate about. Injustice, stupidity, intolerance, bigotry and small-mindedness. Oh and there might just be some humor to offset the whole thing.

US teacher is suspended for letting pupils read bestseller

Posted by morganwrites on August 15, 2008

An Indiana teacher who used a much lauded bestseller, The Freedom Writers Diary, to try to inspire under-performing high-school students has been suspended from her job without pay for 18 months.

The effective book ban by the school authorities in Perry Township has outraged teachers and education reformers.

The Writers Diary, a series of true stories written by inner-city teenagers, was put together by a teacher, Erin Gruwell, and has been celebrated as a model for transforming young lives. It was made into a film with Hilary Swank last year.

Connie Heermann, a teacher for 27 years, sought permission to introduce the book to her students last autumn after attending a training workshop held by the Freedom Writers Foundation. “If you read the whole book you will see how these inner-city students grow and change and become articulate, compassionate, educated young people who want to do something good in their lives despite the environment in which they were raised,” she told the Guardian. “I thought my students would very much relate to those kids.”

Her head agreed and Heermann got written permission from nearly 150 parents, but the Perry Meridian high school board urged her to wait for its decision.

Teachers’ union officials say that a single board member objected to swearing in the book. The school board member allegedly persuaded the other six officials to ban Heermann from teaching the book. It remains available in school libraries.

Heermann and the union say there was no explicit ban on the book when she handed it out to pupils on November 15. But later that day she received an email from the board advising her not to teach the book. “That was the pivotal moment of my life, when I saw how my students were taken with the book, how they loved it, and then I am told not to let them read it? I said no,” she said.

After being threatened with dismissal, Heermann was eventually suspended. The union is deciding whether to take the case to court.

The school board denies book banning and accuses Heermann of insubordination. Barbara Thompson, the school board president, wrote in an email yesterday: “She knew she had defied her supervisors’ direction in her work and that her defiance was ‘insubordination’ and ‘neglect of duty’.”

When caring teachers are suspended, and the school board are idiots, it’s no wonder our children’s learning is suspect.


4 Responses to “US teacher is suspended for letting pupils read bestseller”

  1. Tom Heermann, husband of suspended teacher said

    Dear Morgan:
    Connie and I wanted to thank you for your nice article on her horrible plight with the Perry Township School Board. The fight is continuing — and we are getting help to fight it!

    It’s whole new world out there with the internet and blogs — and I’m convinced it’s caring, responsible bloggers like youself that will change the world…for the better!

    A case in point: the Guardian article that you refer to. Suzanne Goldenberg got ahold of me via my email because I had posted a response to a “filmspotters” forum entry calling for support of Connie. Of course I found the forum entry by “googling” Connie’s name several times a day. I was so touched by this anonymous gentleman named “gateway” trying to help us — I just HAD to thank him. Then pow — The Guardian picked my response — and then then the world gets a great story!

    I have picked up maybe a hundred blog entries using google and other search engines. Almost all blogs are overwhelmingly positive to Connie — and see the situation as it is: censorship of books and the high school newspaper, horrible treatment of a dedicated teacher — and absolutely no intention of compromising or doing the right thing given overwhelmingly mitigating circumstances. One blogger said it’s “a board gone mad.”

    Since Connie’s draconian and unprecedented 18-month suspension without pay or subsidized benefits (like our health insurance) — the board has a new president and three new members. They are now not arguing viciously in public anymore or threatening to sue each other. They are talking “let’s move on.” They want “kumbaya.”

    Well think again. I attended the last August 11 meeting and was extremely offended by the new president’s uncalled for sarcastic remark about the Freedom Writers Diary. As the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Dr. Debra Barnes was informing the board of the new teacher’s language book selection for the upcoming year, Steve Maple, the new president chided in with: “well is the Freedom Writers Diary going to be included in all that, Dr. Barnes?” Dr. Barnes responded with a quick and embarrassed, “no.” Immediately you heard loud groans from the residents attending the board meeting. My face was as red as the silk shirt I was wearing — but a little voice said to me, “restraint of tongue and pen,” and I didn’t stand up to protest (I’m glad I didn’t).

    So I guess what I’m saying, Morgan, is that you will hear more from Connie, because the new president and new board still doesn’t understand the world-wide outrage over Connie’s harsh suspension. And since we have 18 months to talk about it — guess what?: we will! More articles will appear in more national and international publications, I guarantee it. The longer the controversy goes the better it is for teachers like my wife. Somewhere, someone has to make boards around the US realize: if you do this to a teacher, this is what could happen. Your board becomes a poster child, a microcosm for all that is wrong in education — and the world will laugh at you.

    The only problem with that is, guess what, the board has been receiving hundreds of emails from around the world. But, well, the board just doesn’t care.

    Thanks again for your great take on Connie’s situation. I would enjoy trading conversation with you again soon.

    Thank you
    Tom Heermann, better known now as “Connie’s husband”

  2. Tom,
    What else could I do for your cause? Just let me know and if it’s in my power to do so – I’ll be happy to oblige.
    BTW – We mid-westerners have to look out for one another, and being an ex-Michigander soon to be a non-ex-Michigander, it seemed appropriate to bring this to the attention of blogging world.
    Best to you and Connie.

  3. Tom Heermann said

    Thanks! I am thinking of what can be done (brainstorming). Could you drop a note to me ASAP at my email(you have it right? Let’s talk!!
    Tom Heermann

  4. Tom –

    I answered you via your email given in the first comment. Your handle is mistersmiley – yes?
    If not let me know and my email, as you might already know is –
    Looking forward to hearing from you soon.


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