Urban Life-Freedom Writers

Freedom Writer’s Diary

The Freedom Writers Diary is a special story of a group of diversely mixed students, characterized as ‘un-teachable and at risk, and a new 24 year old white teacher who crossed racial boundaries.   The story takes place in a violence ridden, low income neighborhood in Long Beach, CA, where these teens are struggling to survive. To them learning is a waste of their time. As the teacher, Erin Gruwell arrives the first day of class with her freshly starched look (and a strand of pearls); the students take bets as to how long she will last.

With persistence, dedication and concern Ms. Gruwell reached her students through literature. The central moment of the story, that changed all their lives, is when one student passed around a racial caricature of an African American student in the class.   As their teacher, she was horrified and made a comparison to the Nazi drawings of Jews at the time of the Holocaust.   She was stunned to find out that her students were never taught about that time in history; most had never even heard of it.   This information fueled her fire to help her students.   She realized that they were very familiar with violence; many of the youngsters had been or knew someone who had been shot.  
Erin Gruwell introduced her students to books about teenagers who like themselves were placed in the midst of violent situations.   They read the Diary of Anne Frank and Zlata’s Diary: A child’s life in Sarajevo, to name a few. They were hesitant to start but once they began a strong connection was made with each author’s story.   The students were motivated to keep private journals about the struggles in their own lives.   They called themselves the Freedom Writers in remembrance of the Freedom Riders, civil rights group.
This group of previously ‘un-teachable teens” became enthusiastic learners. They felt the safety of a family environment in Ms. Gruwell’s class room.   The group organized a fund raiser to bring Miep Gies, the woman...