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Freedom to Teach


An Indianapolis teacher who bucked school orders by allowing her high school English students to read The Freedom Writers Diary was suspended for a year without pay for insubordination, according to a cnn.com video report.

The Freedom Writers Diary, a book-turned-movie, contains journal-style musings of California high school city students. Expletives and violent images often accompany their reflections of personal tragedies, troubled homes, and impoverished neighborhoods. Perry Township School Board officials say teacher Connie Heermann’s decision to teach the book was inappropriate. “The people … looked at this content and said that it will do more harm than good,” said school board attorney Jon Bailey.

Many of Heermann’s students share similar backgrounds with the book’s authors, which Heermann herself says is beneficial. “They come to know through reading and literature that they’re not alone in the problems they face,” she said.

The school board originally stalled in deciding whether to allow the book, Heermann says. She officially received recall orders even after getting parental permission, but decided to allow her students to continue with the book anyway. “They were reading, they were engaged. I looked at my students and decided I want them to read this book,” she said.

Heermann is allowed to return to teaching in the school in September 2009, but refuses to do so unless she is allowed to teach the book.


I am a high school reading/English teacher from NH who grew up in southern Indiana. We've used the movie and book for two years to motivate our sophmore students to read and write. Many of our at-risk students have seen that they can make inappropriate decisions that have life-changing decisions. Several have re-evaluated their decisions and made changes that helped them deal with volitale situations. We can't continue to "hide under a rock" and ignore the fact that we have to deal directly with public profanity. I always tell students that I do not approve of the language and it doesn't make it right for us. Our school has a rule that says profanity of any kind is not tolerated. Yes, they test the waters but most will do it anyway. It is stressful but I feel it gives us an edge that helps us deal with profanity in this situation as well as other life-changing situations.

I think the school board's decision is absolutely preposterous and they should all be replaced for failing to adhere to the communities wishes.

You go Connie, stand up to those commies!

I think more teachers need to stand up for what they believe in. I work in an inner city school in Phx, AZ. I say if they can read it, understand it, and it can be used to changes lives, if the parents agree to the book, the school board are stupid not to get kids reading. Especially those kids who generally won't pick up a book. This school board needs to reconsider, or Connie can come work for me.

In the "real world" where I used to work before I returned to education, employees could stand up for what they believed and ignore employer instructions - they were then summarily fired. No so in your K-12 "La-la" land. Mr. Fuller, if the school board was democratically elected by the citizens (as most are), then your comments about "preposterous" decisions and "community wishes" are revealed as juvenile sentiments of rebellion.

If the students want to read a particular book and parents approve, they can read it at home or anywhere else outside of school. In school students should be pursuing a higher level of reading than "junk-lit" as this book obviously is. Teaching in a community college I see daily the product of failed school systems that are failing to educate students to a minimal level of competence. After several years of floundering around in the "real world" after 12 years in failing schools ruled by unions, they finally return to us and need to learn how to read, write, and do basic math.

Sooner or later, things are going to have to change - ah, maybe that will be "Change We Can Believe In!" Incidentally, "commie" is one charge I have never had to answer to.

"They come to know through reading and literature that they are not alone in the problems that they face." --Connie H. (the Indiana teacher). This was the only book she could find to teach this lesson? I teach high school English in California, and I have taught with more and less conservative school boards. I assume, and certainly hope, that she attempted to work with and educate parents, administration, and school board before taking the moral high ground. Even so, as another commentator suggested, school is not the only place the students can read the book. It is not banned in the local bookstore. Has the board banned every book with foul language and disturbing images? Do they also ban Caged Bird, Huck Finn, and Catcher in the Rye? I would be surprised if there were not more to this story and more history between teacher and district that we don't know. How does a reasonable adult get to the point where they would rather not teach if they can't teach Freedom Writer's Diary?

We, as teachers, have to teach according to the students we have. Most public schools have students who are at-risk and they are the ones who need to see that they can make a difference even if they don't live in a prominent residential neighborhood or able to have anything they want. We are losing these students to major drop outs. So choosing to not use Freedom Writer's Diary is rediculous. The students need someone that can reach them at their level in order to make a difference.

Teachers must be responsible--a given. But then they must be allowed to make decisions that will help their students advance through the maze that the world puts up for them to navigate. There is a sacred relationship between the student and the teacher. Often the teacher is the only one the students can trust. He/she must help the students deal honestly and carefully with the issues in the book and in their lives. I support freedom of expression in a conscientious and loving environment. Let us not bow down to "authority" without questioning it appropriately.

As we have seen repeatedly in the history of education, this is one more example of the lack of respect for and confidence in the experience and training of professional educators. I have yet to see a group of citizens walk into a surgeon's office and demand he or she change a surgical procedure!! Taking away this educator's salary for a year and demanding that she not receive unemployment is demeaning and controlling. How dare a mere educator question the wisdom of the masses--especially a woman!!
Congratulations to Connie Heermann for standing up for her profession, her knowledge, her experience and most of all, what's right for the children she teaches!!!

In the "real world" we teachers would be able to teach students who came to school ready to learn. They would be raised by adults who know how to parent and would be ready for the rigors of school life, but we don't live in this real world. We live in a world where teachers are held accountable for matters that are well beyond our ability to make any real changes. If you find a way to make the changes that need to be made, you should be applauded for this ingenuity and not accused of failing your students.

Teachers just want to teach and make a difference to as many students as possible. However, this has become increasingly hard to do because parents and politicians don't want to face the facts that we are increasingly raising generations that are "at risk" of not being productive citizens when they reach adulthood. We can't keep blaming each other. We need to find and use any means possible (within reason) to make these changes. If reading a book that shows how students overcome bad situations in their lives can help, then read it! It can't possibly hurt.

I take exception to the comment that the New York Times bestselling novel, "The Freedom Writers Diaries," is "junk-lit". Obviously this person has only heard the negative features of this book -- some profanity -- and has not actually READ (or understood)the book.
If you follow the news reports of this dedicated teacher, you will find she did not take "the moral ground." The moral ground was created by the Board's continued cruelty and foolishness.

Ms. Heermann involved top administration, her principal and department chair FROM THE BEGINNING, to get them on board. The problem is,you have to be dealing with caring and capable administrators who work faster than a "glacial pace," who don't turn on you when times get tough.

I admire this teacher.

Emil Francis

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Recent Comments

  • Emil Francis: I take exception to the comment that the New York read more
  • dcaldwell: In the "real world" we teachers would be able to read more
  • Jeannine Perry: As we have seen repeatedly in the history of education, read more
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