The Freedom Writers Diary
by Erin Gruwell
Growing up in South Central in Los Angeles, California in the 1990’s can’t be easy. Imagine attending an integrated high school that has all levels of students but is broken into ethnicities based on academic performance. So, based on their elementary school preparation, the students are separated into groups: Asian, White, Black and Hispanic. Enter the world of Erin Gruwell, a recent college graduate teaching 9th grade English to the lowest level class, an unmotivated mixture of students from low-income families. Gruwell decides she will have students read books that reflect the students who are in the class: classics written by Asians, African-Americans and Hispanic authors. She introduces play acting, drawing, and movie-making to the class. She brings in authors who wrote about their experiences being held captive by the Nazis, fighting as a youth in Bosnia, and succeeding professionally despite coming from low socio-economic backgrounds. After the first year, she was given the opportunity to keep the same class for their sophomore & junior years after winning accolades in local and national media. The class receives computers and trips to Washington DC to speak with the US Secretary of Education. During their senior year, they are welcomed to NYC upon the announcement that the class was going to have their story published as a book: The Freedom Writer’s Diary. Each of the entries tells the real-life story of numerous students in the class, addressing issues of sexual abuse, the shooting of friends and family members on the streets of NYC, drug abuse, pregnancy, poverty, and a litany of other personal hardships. The success of the book is not only showing students that their voice matters, but also illustrating the importance of their story, that it needed to be told – they just needed a way to be validated and motivated to do so. Gruwell’s creativity and persistence to never give up is a model for all educators who want to make a difference for students who don’t know that a future is possible. An inspirational, real-life story that any and every educator should read. We can change the dial for success.