You won’t like this?

Although, I do like the idea of naming the students after the real freedom riders (at least she gave some credit to where she got the name from) I thought this book was more about Gruwell’s resume than it was about her students. Throughout the book she does some fantastic things and I can not think for the life of me why would an individual with so many connections want to be a teacher in the first place? Does she really have connections, is all of this stuff true?

I mean was it just natutral for her to have all those good things happen right in a row? (What luck, Spielberg, Connie Chung, Diane Sawyer, Congress, Oprah?) She published a book and next thing you know she is selling it and touring oversees. I mean I wrote a book  (“I Charge Y’all, Buy The Word!”) and Barnes and Nobles has it on its book list. I even have a few reviews and I never toured oversees to sell my book.

I’m not comparing myself to Gruwell but if all this is true, she lived a life way above average and there is something she is not telling us. This is not realistic (I guess she was a rich girl anyway, I mean she even met the guy from the rat pack, right?) at all.

But besides the fact, even if it is all true, it seems more like braggadoccio than it does authenticity. The only part in the novel where I felt she was involved with her “heart” was when her father died. Even then, she was talking about how people said she should not speak at the event because she was under too much stress (right after she received news of his death) but in her strength she managed to speak to audiences regardless of the fact that she had just received bad news concerning her father.

She can’t go one moment without revealing her “inner strength” to her audience. Then, I love when she tries to pass it off like she is such a modest person, who you fooling? 

Ray C.



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15 responses to “You won’t like this?

  1. canadawr5

    I agree, I don’t have anything against success but you don’t have to always flaunt it!

  2. ll123

    I agree with you about what you just said. All those events happened within Gruwell’s plan. She had a syllabus for most of the things that happened in Teach With Your Heart. I really don’t like her political involvement, especially when it comes to her students. I was so shocked to see that she even went ahead giving a speech right after her receiving the bad news of her father’s death. Was her father really that important to her as she claimed? I doubt it. by L. L.

  3. sunyprof

    Ray, did you comment on your own post? Or did this comment end up in the wrong spot?

    Aren’t you curious about how her students are reading her narrative? I sure am. I’ve tried looking up reviews of the memoir but haven’t turned up anything of interest yet.

    I don’t diminish her success with these students. That seems self-evident when one reads the Freedom Writers’ own words. I just wish she’d had a better editor!

    Tell us about your book. KES

  4. sunyprof

    Li, what do you mean about Gruwell’s political involvement? Interesting?

    Are we being too judgmental? It’s her story and she can tell it her way. I’m trying to withold judging her since I really have no idea what kind of person she is. I do know that the extraordinary work she did with kids is well documented.

    That’s what has been important for me in this story.

    When I write my book I hope all of my wonderful students will say good things about it!! KES

  5. allison

    Hi Everyone! Ray’s post certainly stirs up some great points for discussion!

    Professor Stearn, I certainly agree with you that Gruwell needed a better editor.
    Something that I truly hate (and I think many will agree) is sentimentalism. When I finished Gruwell’s book, I was tempted to go back through it and count the number of times that she cried, or the students cried, or a friend cried, or a businessman (really?!). I wish she could have found a more powerful way to show the connections and emotions that were developed.

    To address Ray’s criticism: I really, really want to dislike her and think that she is bragging. But as much as I want to do this, I believe that she did make a difference with these kids somehow. (I say somehow because the book is lacking in specific day-to-day methods.)
    I also dislike how political she is. It seems she spent very little time in the classroom and more time campaigning and speaking. Perhaps I’m one of Kelly’s dreaded students with “romanticized” ideas about English, but I think that teaching is about connecting with the students and being in the classroom, not in D.C. or on a stage. Does anyone else agree with me on this one?
    In my opinion, Gruwell would have done better to stay in the classroom.

  6. sunyprof

    Why does “education” take place only or even mostly in a classroom? She clearly “connected” with her students. And she made the world their classroom. And even though she does not lay our day to day methodology for classroom activities, their book (I’ll bring it to class next week) is proof of their “work” in her class. And the results in their subsequent achievements speak for themselves.

    I wonder why we as future (or current) teachers want to undercut, challenge, protest even her accomplishments.

    I think it’s most interesting to examine our own readers’ responses–our own locations so to speak–in relationship to her book.

    It will be very interesting to see how we react to a veteran teacher’s classroom tale–Leila Christenbury’s “Retracing the Journey”–in which the author reflects on her own naivete in thinking she would capture students’ hearts (and minds) witih her own commitment, dedication and vast knowledge of pedagogy. Hmmmm. KES

  7. jexter1

    Ray & class,

    After reading the first half of “Teach With Your Heart,” I felt inspired and fortunate to live in a country that homes such proactive, dedicated people. Gruwell appeared genuine in her work and simply wanting to connect with her students in the best possible way(s). There was a statement made during class discussion on the first half of the memoir in regards to Gruwell’s “weak attempt” at understanding basketball. A classmate felt that it was judgmental and, I got the impression from the response of the class, it was believed to be racist of her to assume the two boys loved basketball based on their jerseys. I, on the other hand, commend her for her attempt at finding a common ground with the boys. Granted her sports knowledge was limited, but Gruwell’s intentions were pure. Gruwell was determined to teach these students, even if it meant entering “their world,” a world that was foreign to her.

    However, the second half of the memoir brought me to a different conclusion. I will not take from Gruwell that she had the students’ best interests in mind; I’m certain that she did. Unfortunately, her fame and publicity hurt her credibility, though. To allow the papers and movie to focus on just two students (i.e. Sharaud and Maria) gave the impression that the other students’ stories and journeys were less important, less worthy of being told.

    Also, as the class said in discussion on Tuesday, there was no mention throughout the memoir of the everyday lessons Gruwell taught. Was she capable of carrying on an average class discussion? Did she succeed at teaching an everyday lesson without a controversial class trip or elaborate assignment? Did Gruwell work with other teachers, collaborate with their lessons, or did she isolate herself from the others?

    Some unanswered questions arise in Gruwell’s memoir despite the fascinating true story.


  8. sunyprof

    You know Jess, when I think about the day-to-day in her class the conclusion I draw is that she could have taught these kids anything–because she had built relationships with them. These relationships created a community for learning. She had done the essential work that allows learning to happen.

    It’s hard, too, for me to imagine that a woman who had the qualities that propelled her to a national stage was anything but a dynamo in the classroom.

  9. sfarah19

    I agree with Ray that one of the most annoying things Gruwell does is praise herself then follow her self-affirmations with statements of modesty. “I’m just trying to pay off my debt!” I must admit getting through the second half of the book became very difficult. I agree with Allison in that I was tempted to count how many times she cried or made someone else cry. And really, don’t even get me started on her encounter with Hillary Swank! All that aside, Professor Stearns is correct in stating that she could have taught the students anything because of the relationships she created with them but how realistic are these connections she has made when she had these students for four years? I doubt any of us will get the opportunity to work with the same group of students for two, let alone four years. Also, do any of you think that it may have been a little detrimental to the students to be in such an unrealistic learning enviornment, to not be seperated from eachother or Gruwell for that long? Gruwell goes into this a little at the end of the book (when she’s not gloating or talking about herself) how some of the freedom writers “fell off” after graduating and leaving their tightly knit group. What do you all think?


  10. sunyprof

    I see your point for sure Suzanne, but try to imagine how disengaged these kids were from school-sponsored learning. They started from places you and I don’t know…never have. So in my view the “unrealistic” learning environment saved their lives.

    Again, I think we have to be willing to imagine that teaching and learning can take place, in fact, do take place in ways other than in the classrooms we have inhabited and do inhabit.

    I like to think that these kids can now own their own learning–and have challenged their college professors to be better teachers than they may already be. Once you’ve tasted what it means to do work that is important to you and to the world, why would you want to go back? KES

  11. allison

    Jess, I also thought that Gruwell was probably using the sports information to connect with the students. In my own experience, I have found that to connect with most students over sports, you don’t have to know much to talk to them about it. All you need is a general background, a few specifics about key teams and players, and you’re good to go. Students seem to appreciate being able to talk about something that they are interested in. Even if you’re not an expert. Be willing to learn from them, and to try to be an expert, and they will probably talk to you. I respect Gruwell’s attempt in this case.

    Suzanne, I was also wondering about the students who “fell off.” Did Gruwell teach them enough for them to survive in the “real world.” Are these students proficient in the dominant discourse? Do they have skills in reading, writing, and speaking, that will enable them to get good jobs?
    As I ask this question, I can anticipate a response. It goes “Why should teachers such as Erin Gruwell be concerned with teaching skills that will simply get student’s jobs?”
    I would say that it is completely necessary for these kids to go on and get good jobs. I know that monetary success is not the preferred end for education. But why shouldn’t we give students (even disadvantaged students) the means to achieve monetary success, if they want it. If a teacher fails to equip them with the possibility for success in the current society, then I think they have failed in that sense.
    Perhaps Gruwell succeeded in other ways, but I am still left asking, did Gruwell ultimately give these students the skills they would need to get a good job?

  12. jillian24

    After having seen the movie and read the Freedom Writers stories, I went into the memoir excited to hear from the teacher. Initially, I was impressed by what she could accomplish and the effort she put into building relationships with her students. I agreed with the point we discussed in class about professional boundaries, but approved of her effort and focus on individuals. Then, Ray got me thinking when he questioned her sincerity. I started to think that the production she makes of her own accomplishments in her memoir is a reflection of her need to be successful and recognized. I think this is dangerous in the teaching profession. The lucky teachers are the ones who see their own success in the lives of students (and I’m not talking about test scores). If she went into the profession looking for personal validation, then I’m not surprised how easily she moved into promoting her foundation. I just don’t think that will work for individuals who are planning to teach as a career (longer than four years). Teaching successfully requires determination and stamina. Gruwell states that things just worked for her. Case in point, not everyone has a personal benefactor like John Tu. So, I concede- Ray made a great point. She cared about the kids, at least at the time, and she accomplished something great. I won’t go so far as to say we should emulate her in any more than some isolated teaching strategies that other great teachers and education professors have been supporting for a long time. Here, I made a list while we were in class brainstorming. Perhaps this can get us going in a more positive direction.
    Things we should take from Erin Gruwell’s memoir :
    Attach literary works to students’ values, use their context to create a relationship between them and the text
    Make the work meaningful by connecting it to significant circumstances (history, social issues, politics,…)
    Use other mediums (movies, diaries, field trips) (This connects to our readings about technology in the classroom)
    Put the responsibility for the education on the student. Then, follow up and support their efforts.
    I know this is just a start for our discussion, but how about we add to this list. Our list of grievances is already quite long.

  13. allison

    What a great idea for a list of valuable lessons in Gruwell’s memoir.
    I would like to add to it!

    Encourage students to achieve outside of class. Get involved in the community. Get involved in national affairs that interest them. Get published outside of school. Get involved in projects outside of class that interest them. Main point: Getting involved, doing something that matters, find passion!!

  14. sfarah19

    These are all excellent things to incorporate into our classrooms. I believe it’s so important to get our students active and involved in the community. Gruwell certainly accomplished this task with her group of students. She took what they learned inside the classroom and actually showed them why it mattered by taking them outside. I give her due credit here.


  15. sunyprof

    Great dialogue…I want to ask a question about Allison’s question:

    “Perhaps Gruwell succeeded in other ways, but I am still left asking, did Gruwell ultimately give these students the skills they would need to get a good job?”

    What do we think those skills are???

    If the students we meet in the memoir and in Freedom Writers do not have the tools to be employed then I don’t know what would give them those tools? And I don’t think, of course, this is all the Eng. teachers’responsibility. We cannot take all of that on our shoulders.

    Students encounter many other teachers in a middle/high school career who must also prepare them for work in the world.

    One of the books we’re reading in 506, Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind (, encourages us to think about how to answer just this question at the dawn of the 21st century. So, of course, does Tom Friedman in “The World is Flat,” a book all of us educators need to read. KES

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