Teaching With Your Heart

It seems that from our class discussion on Ms. Gruwell’s opus that our views may be divided as to the author’s true intentions. I agree that she accomplished what many could not and that her method worked, but it’s hard to determine whether or not we can relate because the book lacks something. There is no driving force in the narrative and there are no figures in the story with which we can connect (a major problem, it being a memoir), even the students end up being portrayed like stereotypical cardboard imitations. The writing doesn’t manage to construct a heart to fill the void left by the promise of the title. I find myself asking how are we expected to learn anything from a book titled Teach With Your Heart if it lacks that very thing… heart?

In answer to that, I don’t rightly know. So far in the reading, I feel that Gruwell is so detached from everything that I have begun to question her intentions, much like Ray with his view of manipulation. For example, making headlines in the papers, taking the class to meet with Steven Spielberg, getting the support of Joey Bishop, etc. Given her family background, her schooling, her non-existent love life and not much else (the lack of insight into her actual character, to me, makes the book collapse in on itself ) many lines can be drawn. And that’s where it comes back to Sofia’s discussion of boundaries. What boundaries will we draw on ourselves as teachers? What boundaries will we draw on our colleagues and the system? Should we follow Erin Gruwell’s example? Maybe. It’s all open to interpretation really. Ultimately, we will decide for ourselves what our boundaries are and maybe make some decisions based on information presented to us by someone like Gruwell who, like it or not, managed to make some waves.



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7 responses to “Teaching With Your Heart

  1. traverse02

    By the way, again, this is Raph who posted. I keep forgetting that.

    And If anyone wants to check out Half Nelson, a film starring Ryan Gosling, I highly recommend it. It’s about a history teacher in an inner city school who connects with his students in a very different way. The film itself is more of a character study than anything else, but it is definitely interesting to look at given the work by Gruwell and what we’ve been talking about with multiculturalism.

    If you can’t find it to rent, I own it on DVD so you can borrow it from me. However, don’t yell at me because of any disturbing content.


  2. sfarah19

    Hi all! Our discussion Tuesday night helped me realize why Gruwell’s book was failing to strike a deeper connection with me. I agree with Raph in that the writing lacks heart which makes the book’s title ironic in a way. Although I find some inspiration in Gruwell’s ability to “connect” with her students, I can not seem to make a connection with her as an author. I think Raph is correct in stating that the characters in the book (Erin included) are strictly surface based. We don’t ever really get a glimpse into any of their thoughts or emotions, we only hear, briefly, about some of their struggles with the education system and personal lives. The story appears to be more self-affirming than anything else for Gruwell and these accounts of constant praise and notariety for all she’s done for the students gets to be a little much at times.

    Although I think the idea behind the story is meaningfull and its intent is to inspire, Gruwell falls short of making a real connection with her readers.


  3. sofiapenna

    Hi Raph, this is Sofia. I guess I struggle with your phrase about the students in Gruwell’s book being “stereotypical cardboard imitations”. I see them all as real people and real students who come from challenged backgrounds. Can you offer a little more on how you’ve come to term the kids this way? Because we seem to disagree, I’m really interested in your point of view….interesting approach! -Sofia Penna

  4. traverse02

    By saying that the students in the memoir are stereotypical cardboard imitations, I mean that that’s how they are written. I also see them as real people and I think that each of their stories are very compelling, but Gruwell’s writing doesn’t do them justice and only goes so far in actually giving them substance.

    As I continue to read, I notice how the book is really just Gruwell rattling off facts. The students tell her these incredible stories and she’ll say, “We cried and then we hugged,” or “I wanted to hug (enter name here)” and that just doesn’t work for me as far as connecting with anyone in the story. And really, that is all that happens in any of their exchanges. There are never any truly intimate moments that give us a feeling of the intensity and the gravity of the situation.

    To me, it would add a lot more to Gruwell’s character and show that she really did learn something from the Freedom Writers (considering the subtitle is “Lessons I Learned From the Freedom Writers”), instead of just saying “Maria, the hispanic girl, read Zlata’s Diary, and she could relate to it because she lives in the ghetto in Long Beach and her dad is in jail, and so we had Zlata come to class and we all hugged and everybody learned something really important that day.” All of the other students in her class are written like this ad nauseum. I don’t meant to make fun of Gruwell, but it really is how she writes. Granted there are more details as far as what happened to Maria in her life, but Gruwell doesn’t seem to be learning anything from it. She is more concerned about listing off all of her accomplishments (class field trips, making the news, meeting Spielberg, etc.) and fretting over who will be cast as her in a Hollywood movie based on her life.

    I respect Gruwell for what she did, but this memoir comes across as pompous especially considering that it was released in conjunction with the movie starring Hilary Swank, who Gruwell suggested play her because she wanted someone with substance. I think Hilary Swank managed to outdo Gruwell in the substance department.

  5. mandygrl101

    I know Dr. Stearns mentioned that she hoped the class would focus on the pedagogical aspects of Teaching With Your Heart, and I am going to try and do that in my post, although I am very interested in what everyone is saying about the story lacking heart. It seems collectively we are all having trouble connecting with Gruwell, but that aside, she arguably present some very admirable teaching techniques through her story, many of which I think are found in the beginning of the book, as I tend to agree that the focus of the story shifts in the second half to being mainly about Erin. However, the student trip at the end was undoubtedly a great triumph for this group of kids, as well as an undisputable enlightening cultural lesson.

    Regardless, I still felt that I could relate most to Erin more in the beginning of the book, when she focused on herself as a brand new teacher, while simultaneously trying to balance her marriage with work, deal with her conflicts with her colleagues, and trying to connect with her students, which I think she ultimately does. After reflecting on the class discussion from last week, I truly don’t find anything wrong with her familiarizing herself with baseball and rap so that she could capture her class’s attention. I don’t think this at all represents someone who is being fake or insincere, but a woman who was desperate to help her students. Given the same situation, I know I would do the same. I think her students probably respect her more for going out of her way to find ways relate to them, rather than give up on them, like many of the other teachers in the school did. Although Erin was affluent, and could ask her Dad for money when needed, she still worked several jobs to help pay for supplemental materials and activities for her students. I loved that she bought 150 copies of Catcher in the Rye, regardless of the financial strain it put her under. This is a personal boundary that she was willing to cross in order to provide her students with access to materials that she deemed important. Also, one of my favorite activities that she did with her class was the line game, recognizing that not only did she need to connect to her students, but that they also needed to connect and interact with each other.

    Further, proof of how hard she worked with and for her students is revealed at the end, when we learn that many of her former students have succeeded. Not only did Erin infuse her classroom with admirable and unique ways to teach English and related skills, but she also taught her kids lessons outside the classroom: how to network with other people and organizations, how to word hard for their successes, how to overcome obstacles and make their stories heard. Although I agree with the class about how the narrative is written rather blandly, I can move beyond that, and recognize that Erin did some truly amazing things with her class.

  6. traverse02

    I agree with Mandy as far as what Gruwell does to relate to her students. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with learning about football or rap music. It may come across as awkward, but you do have to show students you care, or else why would they care to learn from you? Teaching facilitates learning on a completely different level than most of us might expect. There are certain things that we’re going to have to learn, especially when dealing with a generation of kids so far removed from the way things used to be.

    I also agree with Mandy in regards to the beginning of the book, because Gruwell seemed to be on the right track with the whole idea of learning lessons from and connecting with her students. We can only hope that one day we can make sacrifices like she does (except for the whole thing with her marriage falling apart, that’s just a little too ridiculous for me, I always see family as coming before anything else).

    Her character aside, there are many lessons we can learn from Gruwell on a smaller scale with the unfortunately limited amount of time she spends describing class discussions, projects, and ideas for interactivity. I know that the focus of our discussion should be on these issues and not on her character, I just find it very hard to stomach sometimes, especially as I near the end and everything about pedagogy gets thrown out the window.

  7. ll123

    I feel the same as some of you regarding two things about Teach with Your Heart. First, I do think that it is hard for us to live up to the expectation; Second, I also doubt Gruwell’s intention even though I admire her special methods of connecting with her kids. I don’t know if it is realistic if we all follow her model in our future classroom. by L. L.

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