A year in an English class in an inner-city public high school.
In the Gifted Magnet Program at Crenshaw High School in South-Central Los Angeles the Advanced Placement students face not merely the academic privileges of competition and interaction with their intellectual peers. They face multiple pressures that would debilitate and demoralize the average adult: poverty, crime, emotional and physical abuse from family members, gangs, drugs, peer pressure, and bureaucratic entanglements whose outcomes will determine their day-to-day survival. Corwin (The Killing Season, 1997) monitored the unfolding 1996–97 academic year with the AP English class at Crenshaw. It was not the best of times, in many regards: the teacher in charge of the class was enmeshed in her own struggle to maintain her professional and emotional focus just then, and the ongoing movement to end affirmative action in public education was facing a statewide vote on that fall’s ballot. Whether following the travails facing the vividly characterized students or those facing the class instructor, Toni Little, Corwin kept his own journalistic focus throughout a project that presented professional and ethical challenges of the most exasperating sort. He details the subsequent defeats and triumphs of will and discipline and keeps the story gritty and gripping, even when explaining the history that led to Proposition 187 (the initiative to end affirmative action) or relating the intimate connection between one of the students at Crenshaw and the two black athletes who raised their fists on the victory stand at the 1968 Olympics. Readers might question Corwin’s role in the early part of the narrative; he prepares them for the moment when the barrier between objectivity and action dissolves late in the story. The stakes here are comparable to those in the documentary Hoop Dreams, and Corwin manages to give academic failure and triumph the same dignified solidity.
Reportage of the highest order.