Guest Reviewer: Erin Gruwell Erin Gruwell’s reputation as an education change agent runs deep. So deep that her story attracted Hollywood's attention. In January 2007, Paramount Pictures released “Freedom Writers,” starring Hilary Swank as Erin. The film is based on The Freedom Writers Diary, the New York Times bestseller that chronicles Erin's extraordinary journey with 150 high school students who have been written off by the education system. Erin and the Freedom Writers founded the Freedom Writers Foundation, which has trained hundreds of teachers in North America and around the world. More recently, Erin and Freedom Writer Teachers published Teaching Hope, which tells uplifting, devastating, and poignant stories from their classrooms--stories that provide insight into the struggles and triumphs of education in all of its forms. The New Cool
is an excellent example of how a passionate teacher can truly engage his students to dispel social stereotypes, overcome adversity and become cool
in a climate that is now cheering for academic overachievers. With a group of eclectic characters more likely to despise each other than get along, Amir Abo-Shaeer encouraged the teamwork, empowerment, and admiration that all students should experience. As readers, we take the fateful journey with Amir’s students--31 high school seniors, known as "The D'Penguineers”--as they find a way to bring specific talents to their project and create an award-winning team against all odds.
Knowing that most students in high school care more about the Paris Hiltons of the world than the Dean Kamens, Amir Abo-Shaeer entered his first year of teaching with the idea of changing his students’ minds about what is cool
. He developed the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy to show students the benefits of actually experiencing
their education rather than just being talked at like a teacher from a Charlie Brown special, which sounds like “waa waa waa waa.” But despite the fact that his academy garnered so much attention that students were transferring to a school once on the brink of closing its doors, Amir and his hardworking students were not given adequate facilities to create a robot for the FIRST competition. Their gripping tale of having to build the most advanced robot at a nationwide competition while attempting to work together despite their obvious differences kept me flipping every page. Neal Bascomb shows the reader every angle of a classroom no larger than the average storage space, bursting with tensions, emotions, and unparalleled enthusiasm. Anyone who claims the upcoming generation has less to offer than its predecessors has not heard about “The D’Penguineers.”
As an English teacher who reveled in the transformation of my own students, the Freedom Writers, I celebrated these students' success. The New Cool
is a tale of triumph both in and outside of the classroom, and featuring as it does tenacious teachers like Amir Abo-Shaeer, the book gives me hope for the future of education.
When Dean Kamen, a millionaire inventor, realized that most kids couldn�t name a living scientist, he created the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition to encourage high-school students to consider scientific careers. Bascomb follows team 1717, the D�Penguineers, from Goleta, California, during the 2009 season. The team of high-school seniors, all rookie robot builders, is led by Amir Abo-Shaeer, a physics teacher and the founder of a fledgling engineering academy. The actual game play and strategy sessions during competitions are undisputedly exciting, but a large chunk of the book is devoted to the six-week robot-building period. Bascomb gamely explains the rules of play and how they apply to construction, but this section may leave readers a bit bored, especially those unfamiliar with the topic. The book�s movie rights have been snapped up and with good reason: there�s a Bad News Bears story here longing to break free�a team seemingly divided against itself is pushed to greatness by a visionary leader with an unending stream of life lessons to dispense. An unabashedly feel-good story (once the robot gets built). --Courtney Jones