Mar 15, 2007

Howell kids get inspirational teacher: Adults get hatemonger

Best-selling author and inspirational teacher Erin Gruwell took time from her appearance at the Flint Public Library Wednesday to speak to about 40 students from Howell High School.

Gruwell, along with her former students at Wilson High School in Long Beach, Calif., is the coauthor of “The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them.”

The anti-gay hate group known as the “LOVE” PAC (Livingston Organization for Values in Education) managed to briefly ban the inspirational book from HHS’s advanced 10th grade English class because of alleged profanity and references to drugs and sex acts. That brief success sparked a censorship campaign that also included a move to ban Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison's first novel, "The Bluest Eye," an acclaimed memoir written by Richard Wright in 1945, "Black Boy " and the classic Kurt Vonnegut novel "Slaughterhouse Five.”

Livingston County Daily Press & Argus reporter Dan Meisler and photographer Al Ward did an excellent job capturing the emotion and feel of the event where the students talked about the discrimination they face, see and experience.

Another student, junior Kelsea Raether, said she feels another type of discrimination — when she's afraid that she gets tainted by Howell's reputation as a racist community. She said she's been advised to take off her Howell High letter jacket when she goes to other parts of the state.
Gruwell encouraged them to dispel those negative stereotypes of Howell — which largely come from the fact that a Ku Klux Klan leader lived in Cohoctah Township until 1992.
"Wear that Howell jacket with pride," she said. "Tell them, 'This is the Howell we know.”
Gruwell also praised Cathy Capy, the Howell English teacher who assigned the book, for her courage, and announced she would be flown to California for training with the Freedom Writers Foundation. The foundation also was filming a documentary during the event.

Maria Reyes, one of Gruwell’s students and one of the co-authors, defended parts of the book “love” objected to.

The profanity, she said, was important to include because it reflects the reality of what the students in Long Beach heard and spoke every day.
"We wanted to make a book that was real," she said.
Passages on racism were included to give the lesson "people treat you the way to treat them."
And writing and publishing the stories about sexual abuse and molestation were important ways to testify about the abuse certain students suffered — and resulted in the perpetrators being punished.
"These stories are not titillating. These stories are not to arouse," Reyes said. "This is about young women standing up and saying 'You can't do this to me.' "

Some of the students also talked about what gave rise to the formation of “love.”

Sophomores Stephanie Onderchanin and Miranda Miller said they would take Gruwell's message about not putting up with racist comments to heart, and extended it to use of the word "gay" to disparage people.

Ann Coulter, Vicky Fyke, Alan Filip, Tom Sullivan and Cleary University are you listening? Why don’t you bring someone in like Erin Gruwell with a positive message to speak at Cleary’s Economic Club Speakers Luncheon Series instead of a hatemonger like Ann Coulter?


Daniel Christianson said...

Some Corrections from the Inside:

LOVE is not an "anti-gay hate group." They just get bad press.

LOVE did not get the book banned "briefly." The book was originally not approved by the board. Then Ms. Capy had her students read the book anyway (a violation of school policy). The discussion resulting from her violation lead to the eventually approval of the book by the school board, which LOVE opposed because of its admittedly graphic content. Later, a complaint was filed with the district prosecutor for him to determine if the books met the legal definition of pornography. They did not.

While you may disagree with LOVE when the members say that the benefit of the book does not outweigh the book's graphic descriptions and profanity, that does not make LOVE a hate group. It simply means that they are concerned for our kids.

People can disagree about what is appropriate for the classroom without being labeled bigots, I hope.

--Member of the Howell community, HHS Class of 2006.

Communications guru said...

I stand by what I have written, Mr. Christianson.

This is from the March 23 Daily Press & Argus; “LOVE sprang to life last spring, emerging in opposition to the rainbow diversity flag put on display in Howell High School in late 2004, which its members see as a promotion and endorsement of homosexuality.”

Any group that discriminates against another group for no reason is a hate group. It’s just like The Southern Poverty Law Center designating the Michigan State University chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom a hate group.

Was it not “LOVE” members Wendy Day and Vicki Fyke that started the protest against the book, and it promoted the administration to look again at the book?
Also, the newspaper reported that 17 English teachers at Howell High School signed a statement that said the book was approved for curriculum, so that means Ms. Capy was not in violation of anything.

I do disagree with “love,” and no matter how you spin it they are an anti-gay hate group. The benefits of the book do outweigh what you call “graphic descriptions and profanity.”

I also fail to see the bad press you are talking about. The reporting was accurate, so how can it be bad press?

Michael Motta said...

Pornography pertains to intended prurience and sexual arousal. However, some people will become aroused and/or take prurient interest in some art/literature even if a work doesn't set out to stimulate such a response. This leads me to wonder if people who call quality literature pornographic are merely registering their own arousal (or projecting it upon others) and if so, maybe they should examine their responses to the literature as much if not more so than the literature itself. In other words, any baseness might be brought to the text by the audience rather than being an intrinsic aspect of the text.
I'm not condemning a variety of responses to texts either; what I am condemning is the idea that some viewers/listeners etc. can label a work pornographic simply based upon their own or their projected responses to it. I'm not sure you can ever condemn an emotional or psychological response to a work of art, but you can condemn some actions (ranging from censorship to physical violence) that may eventuate. I guess this is similar to the old lawsuits against rock musicians for their music allegedly causing suicide etc. It's not something intrinsic to the piece, rather it's the idiosyncratic response(s) of some listeners.