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And Still We Rise

Book Review

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Book Review:

"And Still We Rise: The Trials and Triumphs of Twelve Gifted Inner-City High School Students" by Miles Corwin

"We had what one would consider to be a stable family. That is until my mother became addicted to crack cocaine." So writes one of the students in an essay for Advanced Placement English at Crenshaw High School in South-Central Los Angeles. At one of the toughest schools in the nation, award-winning reporter, Miles Corwin, decided to take a different look at some of the students that go there. He observed a senior AP English class that is part of a gifted magnet program for an entire year. As he said,

"I had written many stories about gangbangers ... I decided I wanted to ...write about the other children of South-Central, the students who avoid the temptations of the street, who strive for success, who, against all odds, in one of America's most impoverished, crime-ridden neighborhoods, manage to endure, to prevail, to succeed."

What he found out will shock and enlighten you.

The Students

"During the years of beatings by her mother, years of being whipped with an extension cord ... and scalded with hot water, school was Olivia's salvation.... (W)hen the beatings were over, she always read her assignments and prepared for her tests."

Olivia is but one of the dozen of gifted AP students that Corwin focuses on throughout his book. Unfortunately, she is not the only one who came from homes teeming with one type of abuse or another. She was placed in foster care and that was in the end no better. But she was smart and able to become enrolled in the gifted program. As I read through Olivia's and other stories I was amazed at the will and conviction of these students. For example, one young man chose to leave gangbanging when The Great Gatsby helped redefine his worldview and a female victim of sexual abuse rose above her past to excel. Many of their lives were chaos outside of school, yet they still had the worries of exams and college applications to deal with. Not all of the students' stories end happily ever after, but all are enlightening and revealing on many levels.

The Teachers

Another fascinating aspect of And Still We Rise was the in-depth look at two teachers with very different attitudes and teaching styles. The 12th grade AP teacher, a white woman named Toni Little, is a study in contrasts. Her flashes of brilliance are just that. However, the politics of the school often drag her down and she, unfortunately, allows this to affect her teaching. On the other hand, Anita Moultrie, the 11th grade English teacher whose students feed the AP course, is Little's rival and often enemy. This strong African-American woman believes firmly in teaching her students about writers from their own culture, shying mostly away from 'traditional' literature curriculum. Little has serious problems with this that she states often and loudly to any who will listen. We get to step inside 'Mama' Moultrie's class too, which offers a different perspective on teaching these unique students.

Summary

And Still We Rise is an important book that definitely changed the way I looked at inner-city education. I found the stories often sad, but just as often uplifting. This book is not a 'teacher-centered' book, but a realistic picture of students and teachers at a difficult school dealing with difficult lives. Willie, the young man quoted at the beginning of this review, sums up many of the students' triumphant spirits when he says, "Now I'm a senior, getting ready for graduation and a new life. Some might say I've encountered a lot at a very young age. This is true. But it has only made me a stronger and better person."

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