Review: And Still We Rise: The Trials and Triumphs of Twelve Gifted Inner-City Students

And Still We Rise: The Trials and Triumphs of Twelve Gifted Inner-City Students by Miles Corwin (Harper Perennial, 432 pages, $14.00)

Miles Corwin was moved to write And Still We Rise when he heard about a 15 year old boy splayed out on a South-Central Los Angeles street corner with several gunshot wounds. The boy had no identification other than a neatly printed exam on the French Revolution with a large “A” on the front page. This child had the misfortunate to be on the wrong street corner at the wrong time.

“I had written many stories about gangbangers,” writes Corwin. “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.”

If you are reading this book with an educator’s lens, do not expect to hear of innovative teachers who, through their practice, empower students to choose books, not gangs. In this book, it is the students who are remarkable, not the teachers. The real story here is the students who struggle through life mostly spent on the streets, but find refuge and personal success in Advanced Placement classes in a gifted program at Crenshaw High School.

As educators with a bent toward the progressive, it is important to be reminded that there is not just one way to encourage success, even with the most disenfranchised youth. The students in And Still We Rise find refuge from their harsh worlds in the analysis of Hamlet, comfort in the trials of The Great Gatsby, and personal enlightenment in Portrait of an Artist. While many educators may claim these books have no relevance to these student’s lives, these students would argue these books are what saved their lives. The book serves as a reminder to think broadly, rather than narrowly about how curriculum can be relevant and engaging.

If the students are at the forefront of the story, then the backdrop is the passing of Proposition 209, which ended most affirmative action in California. And Still We Rise takes the diametrically opposed teaching approaches of the two AP English teachers at Crenshaw High. One might argue that this book is as compelling as any fiction, but I would argue it is better, because it is the authentic, gritty account of the lives of real inner-city youth.

Eva Frank is the Director of CES National’s EssentialVisions DVD project.