Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Hey, Principal, Leave That Teacher Alone

Never underestimate the ability of a public school system to unleash its wrath on any teacher who dares to step outside the box to engage her students. A 27-year veteran of Perry-Meridian, Connie Heerman, faces possible termination for utilizing the "Freedom Writers" approach to teaching which encourages her students to read and fosters acceptance of cultural diversity. Not an approved part of the school's curriculum says the school's administrators. As a consequence, Heerman faces possible termination for insubordination. The Star's Andy Gammil writes:

A Perry Meridian High School teacher’s attempt to follow the lessons in the popular movie “Freedom Writers” has ended with her saying she was censored and the district trying to fire her for insubordination.

Connie Heermann, a 27-year teacher, attended training last summer with Erin Gruwell, the California teacher who inspired the movie.

Gruwell has earned fame for sparking excitement in her apathetic students through writing. Heermann hoped to have the same impact at Perry Meridian.

So when Heermann returned from the training, she started talking with Perry Township administrators about using the lessons in her 11th-grade English class and talked of plans to use a book of diary entries from Gruwell’s students in her own classroom.

The book, which has been taught in other schools around the country, contains passages with racial slurs and some sexual content. At least one other district — in Howell, Mich. — has seen controversy over using the book . . .

The “Freedom Writers” approach encourages students to write about their own experiences, to reach out to other students of different backgrounds and to work toward a future that includes attending college and taking an active role in their communities . . .

The discussion of the book echoes a debate last year when a School Board member and local ministers protested Perry Meridian’s production of the play “Ragtime” because it contained racial slurs.

Heermann, who has been placed on administrative leave, expects a hearing before the School Board . . .

In early November, Heermann collected permission slips for students to read donated copies of “The Freedom Writers Diary,” the collection of essays by students in Gruwell’s original class.

Heermann said Principal Joan Ellis gave her the nod to go forward, and she passed the books out to students. The district says permission never was granted.“I sought their approval,” she said.

“They never told me I couldn’t until half my students had the book in their hands.”

At that point, Heermann said, a district administrator e-mailed her and said that she should not teach the book. The e-mail, she said, broke her heart as she saw students reading with rapt attention for the first time.

She continued with the lessons for a few days and then told students to turn their books in following an order from the principal. In the first class, 19 of 22 in the room refused.


Heerman's supervisors may have a point on whether she displayed insubordination in how she reacted to their order to stop teaching the material, but at the same time her frustration with her bosses' reluctance to promote and encourage teachers to step outside the box is completely understandable. You can read more about the Freedom Writers Foundation here, which promotes innovative teaching methods.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sounds and looks like a bunch of hippies to me. Reading Writing and 'Rithmetic. Anything else is propaganda.

Grover said...

I just love the "stuck in its ways" midwest. This region is rife with intolerance. Just read the TalkBack section of the Star online.

varangianguard said...

Pink Floyd missed it. There is a hierarchy here. Nice catch, AI.

9:59. What should they be reading then? McGuffey readers?

Jacob Perry said...

Ask my why I plan to homeschool my son...

varangianguard said...

Doesn't that just mean you're picking your own propaganda?

Jacob Perry said...

My friend, you have just revealed your gross ignorance of homeschooling.

Of course, I could just reply whose propaganda should I select for my child, the government's? How about that of an individual who ranked in the bottom third of all college students in SAT scores? Or yours perhaps?

Why should you choose?

Anonymous said...

Schools are designed to provide a basic competence and socialization which ends up being lacking in the majority of home school situations. We socialize to the group and learn how to deal with people unlike ourselves. We also try to raise the expectations and aculturate those of the lower socio-economic ranks. Hence the majority of teachers being from the middle class.

Anonymous said...

This is the same school system whose school board has 4 women who are commonly referred to as thge 4 cows.

varangianguard said...

jacob perry,

Lighten up. It was humorous. After all, you asked...

You should just be happy in the fact that you can homeschool your child in whatever manner that you, yourself, chooses to do, and move on.

garyj said...

Ask my why I plan to homeschool my son...

My two were home schooled until 5 th grade. When they went to school, they were at least a grade ahead of what was being taught. The oldest is in all accellerated classes the youngest is in a private school because the public schools couldn't keep up with her.
The oldest even got invited to lunch with ex-Mayor Peterson. I told her not to mention my name or he'll kick her out!
(They got their brains from their mother, certainly not me)
Wise decision, Jacob! It is a lot harder than you may think!

Anonymous said...

This will not be a short post, Gary, and you're politely all wet on this one. But I admire the spunk, of you and the teacher.

By law or by policy, every single piece of instructional material in public school classrooms, must be approved in advance.

Textbooks or supplementals are reviewed by a state-mandated community committee, then forwarded to the School Board for final approval.

Each district usually has policies which govern any other piece of instructional material not covered by the above.

If the teacher wanted to add something to the list, she had a procedure to go through. It can often be circumvented if the need is urgent, through direct principal approval, and later ratification of the principal's "urgent" approval. I don't see this as an urgent need. An urgent need might be, for example, an updated history text if we went into WW III.

The entire process is set up, in this arch-conservative state, to give parents complete access to all classroom materials. And, if the parents object, they usually ahve the right to ask for alternative instruction.

Their reasons have got to be good, but you'd be surprised how these tools have been used by the right wing in recent years. Actually, you'd be stunned.

This teacher tried to short-circuit the process for normal vetting of classroom materials. I'm familiar with the book, and I'd like a smart, motivated teacher to expose my high school freshman to it, under the right circumstances. But I'd be mad as hell if it were sprung on me with little or no advance prep.

The permission slips were perhaps her saving grace, but it sounds as if they were skimpy and tardy.

The business of classroom materials has been very seriously-treated in this state for 30 years. This experienced teacher knew the rules. She decided to rush or partially ignore procedure.

And all this occured in a district where half the kids don't even graduate, and the school board is, well, nuts.

She should've known better. Her idea is solid. I certainly wouldn't fire her over it, but I'd expect her to be just a little remorseful at the process she'd ignored or cheated. I would absolutely not appreciate it if she flippantly made her appeal directly to the press. It is of course her right, but it's stupid.

This is not an academic freedom issue. It's a great book, and properly taught, it could be an uplifting school experience.

It was and is a procedural issue. This experienced teacher should've know that. Her contempt for proper procedure is, frankly, insubodrinate, and she should be written up for it.

But not fired.

That's overkill.

Anonymous said...

should've said "half don't graduate on time."

Looks like 78% of Perry kids ultimately graduate, second or third among Marion County districts.

Jacob Perry said...

varangianguard, if you've ever been to my site (or asked Gary, for that matter) you'd see that a sense of humor is not one of my strong suits. Please accept my apologies.

GaryJ...thanks

Anon 6:03...Thank you ever so much for proving both the adage that "Those who can't do, teach" as well as strengthening my resolve to home school my son. At least I won't have to worry about him "learning" from the likes of you.

Oh, and Perry Township schools are among the best in the state, and have won countless awards. I should now, I are a graduate of one of it's high schools, and look where it got me?

Anonymous said...

Jacob, on what convoluted scale are Perry's schools among the best in the state? No reasonably-accepted standard comes to that con conclusion. Fair to middlin', at best.

BTW, "it's" is not possessive. It's a contraction. A fifth-grade mistake. If you're home-schooling your son, please pick up a copy of Strunk & White's "Elements of Style." You'll save your son from some embarrassing job-app errors in the future.

Anonymous said...

if you homeschool your kid they wont know reality.... do u really want a weird kid....?

Kimberly said...

This is ridiculous! She broke the rules. She seeked permission and it wasn't granted. If she is so passionate about the book and teaching the lesson, then why didn't she just keep pushing the issue until it was approved.
If she is so passionate about teaching the book, then why did she do something that would get her suspended?
I'm not opposed to her teaching the lesson, if she gets permission. BUT GUESS WHAT, SHE DIDN'T GET THE BOOK APPROVED!
I'm a senior at Perry Meridian and I'm ashamed by this teacher's behavior.

chadshort16 said...

I'm one of the students who the book was issued to. Mrs. Heerman was just trying to do good for the school and her students. I think the schoolboard are fucking rediculous. She ment no harm by giving us the books (at all). She is an amazing teacher and doesn't deserve to be fired. It's bullshit. All she's trying to do is make a differance in our school, and some one is always trying to bring it down. This time it's the schoolboard. It's messed up.
Sincerely, Chad Short

Anonymous said...

I'm a 1987 graduate of Perry Meridian High School. Heermann did her due diligence by seeking approval from the principal and getting permission slips signed by parents. Now some may agree that silence during a short time frame would denote tacit approval. I am one of those people that would agree with that.

The school board should not just consider this one isolated incident, but should consider Heermann's overall teaching record during her 27-year employment with Perry Twp.

If they closely look at all her years of dedication with Perry Meridian, they should recognize that she is a committed, passionate teacher, who wants to see her students succeed.

She is not a maverick. She is a woman of principle.

The school board has an opportunity to step up and approve the curriculum; restate a dedicated teacher; and clear its reputation as a township out of touch.

Moderator said...

People seem to be overlooking a couple of points in the Connie Heerman case- the school library already had 8 copies of the very same book and, more importantly, there is a expectation that a teacher, as a professional, has rights under the concept of academic freedom to make independent decisions in the classroom.

When you put those facts together with her action in obtaining parent's permission and the fact that the school approved her participation in a workshop on using the book in the classroom...

It seems a no-brainer. Hands off Connie Heerman.

Also, the decision impacts the rights of her students, as well, since the books were confiscated by the administration-
"We don't need no thought control...

freespeech said...

Soooo let's see, all those ads "Looking for good teachers" are demonized lies!! America's public dumming down institutions are not looking for good teachers. Ms Heermann is among the best, you suspending her?? Go figure! She was inspired to teach excellence and free thought process, you suspend her?? Go figure! You suspend her for 18 months, so much for FREE SPEECH.

I pray other Christians will join me in calling on HOLY GOD to hold accountable: SB Atty Jon Bailey & SB Pres Barbara Thompson, who in essences said to these students and parents we got ours, but we will not permit you to get an education here; Principal Joan Ellis, VP Kevin Albright, who stood by and did nothing and all who voted to suspend this Teacher of Excellence Ms Connie Heermann. GOD Bless her!!!

freespeech said...

Yes, Anonymous at 6:03 PM EST, thank you for your tsunamic tirade. One would conclude that a seasoned instructor is well aware of the procedure for introducing extra instructional material in the classroom. It has been printed that the instructor followed that process, as you so aridly stated, as well. However, maybe the LORD has exposed to us a teacher who has a compassion for others, as HE demonstrated. Shall we dare say; that Ms Heermann is a teacher who understands the power of thought, careful research, data collecting and data handling? Are we out of line if we conclude that Ms heermann understands that children are stimulated, motivated, engaged and learn differently? She obviously understands that her government and private entities collect data and use it at will. She obviously concluded that she could use collected data with her education, experience, personal observation and parental awareness to enhance the educational experience of her students. I applaud her!!!!

Jamie said...

Reading what is happening to this teacher is an atrocity to teachers. Being a teacher myself, specifically of English, I feel sorry for the teacher and the students. She followed appropriate steps. Some parts of the country are just a bit different, right?

Jack said...

That awful woman on the school board is saying the teacher's "setting a bad example to the children" by disobeying an order.

What a jerk! She's into a power trip at the expense of the children's education, that's all.

She's doing a lousy job, and this teacher has rightfully taken things into her own hands.

Power to this teacher, and may the shool board go to hell.

The PARENTS OKd the book. That's all that matters.