Linda Campbell, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, writes about one teacher whose student motivation has gained a wider audience. LINK
For her first day of teaching English, Erin Gruwell put on her polka-dot dress and pearls, carried her Coach purse out to her sporty convertible and took her perky attitude to Wilson High School in Long Beach, Calif., where she was confronted with a class of students who segregated themselves by race, mostly didn't like reading and disdained her white suburban privilege.
So a once-naive California idealist was supposed to motivate Fort Worth teachers to strive for excellence in the new school year?
Gruwell's students included teens who'd belonged to gangs, who'd watched friends slain by gunfire and knives, who'd been in juvenile detention, who'd performed poorly in school if they attended at all, who'd watched their mothers beaten or been abused themselves. Feeling that teachers and parents had given up on them, many had given up on themselves.
When an ugly racist caricature circulated through the class, Gruwell erupted, ranting about the Holocaust. When it became evident that her students hadn't even heard of that horrible historical blight, she tore up her curriculum and replaced the freshman literary canon with Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo.
So an obsessed iconoclast was supposed to inspire Fort Worth teachers to find creative ways to reach students regardless of race, ethnicity, background or family circumstances?
Exactly. And she didn't disappoint.
Through other teenagers' writings about the Holocaust and the Bosnian war, Gruwell helped her students see the folly and destructiveness of intolerance, the senselessness of violence. They drew parallels to their own troubled neighborhoods, to their own prejudices and attitudes. She got these students -- tough, quiet, timid, belligerent, intimidating and intimidated -- to think, to talk. And then to write.
The student essays were published and helped pay for college tuition for the student writers. Campbell reports that the story is now being made into a movie.