And Still We Rise Summary

Miles Corwin

And Still We Rise

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And Still We Rise Summary

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And Still We Rise: The Trials and Triumphs of Twelve Gifted Inner-City High School Students is a 2000 nonfiction work by Miles Corwin, the Los Angeles Times reporter best known for The Killing Season. In this book, Corwin chronicles a school year spent with twelve senior students in the gifted program in a South Central Los Angeles high school. They face many difficulties and must display perseverance to remain in this magnet program. Corwin was inspired to write the book when researching a story dealing with homicide in the South Central area. “John Doe Number 27” had been shot to death and the initial assumption was that it was just another gang member. It turned out that he was a fifteen-year-old student in a gifted program. Corwin realized that the article he was working on was not only about the murder, but also about other young people surviving and sometimes thriving in spite of the odds stacked against them. The boy had been a student at Crenshaw High School, which the author then used as the subject for And Still We Rise.

Corwin focused on the classes of two English teachers in the school’s gifted program during the 1996-1997 school year. In addition to his firsthand observations, he interviewed many students, teachers, and family members. The book incorporates the topic affirmative action as during that school year, California Proposition 209 was passed, thus ending most of the state’s affirmative action programs. One of Corwin’s objectives is to show the inequalities that exist in schools and that simply being “gifted” is not enough to lead to success. Stable home lives in safer areas and educated parents all factor into a student’s success. Corwin grows close with the students but remains mindful that as a white man, he remains an outsider in their world as they face the social inequities that not only shaped their lives but continue to be obstacles to their success.

Merely being labeled “gifted” or “special” adds to the difficulties the students face. It can set them apart from their peers. Additionally, school staff members have much riding on the success or failure of this group. Among the students Corwin writes about are Sadi, who was greatly influenced by reading The Great Gatsby, Miesha, whose older brother has always been her protector though his own academic promise never materialized, and Toya, whose potential has been recognized by Cornell University but whose unplanned pregnancy stymies but does not destroy her efforts to succeed. The student who becomes the most prominent in the text is Olivia. Olivia has spent her life in foster homes and has learned how to work the system and other people. She struggles with getting to school and work due to her dilapidated car and when she gets busted for a check cashing scheme, finds herself in the Los Angeles court system. Her deep desire for academic success, however, never dims.

The two teachers who both seek to support the students’ academic success are in direct opposition to each other. So deep is their rivalry that they communicate with each other via memos. Toni Little teaches Advanced Placement (AP) English to seniors and Anita Moultrie teaches English to juniors. Little is white, intellectual, and emotional. It is her belief that students can develop their academic abilities and overcome the institutional and societal obstacles by reading and studying the classics. Moultrie is black and nurturing, even referring to herself as “Mama Moultrie,” with an upbeat personality.But she is firm and expects no less from her students than she would of her own children. She makes some use of the classics, but also introduces her students to black authors who are not officially included in the school’s curriculum. Both women are dedicated to their students and are quick to take them to task when needed.

Although he becomes invested in the lives and potential futures of the students, Corwin, at least on the surface, maintains his journalistic sense of objectivity and refrains from being a major part of the cast. As the New York Times Book Review pointed out, he is not entirely successful in this effort. “It isn’t until the end of the book that Corwin addresses his own presence in the unfolding story. We know he’s there—recording the wonderful dynamics of Little’s classroom (he was only an occasional drop-in in Moultrie’s) or accompanying Olivia to juvenile court—but how does his presence affect the behavior of the students? The ones he features by name have cooperated with the consent of their parents, but they seem protected from the 3-D exposure that the exuberant Little and Olivia seem to bask in. One small comedy in the book, which forces Corwin to give up his pretended (and sometimes jarring) journalistic invisibility, occurs when, during an extended absence of Little’s, he reluctantly takes over the class from an unprepared series of substitutes in the teaching of Hamlet.”