Freedom Writers Review

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The movie “The Freedom Writers” is based on the true story of Erin Gruwell’s English classes at Wilson High, an integrated school with students of all racial and cultural backgrounds. As a new teacher she is given the lowest achieving students. For safety and belonging most of these students belong to racial gangs and bring this social concept into the class by sitting in racial arrangements. Their morals and self concept are defined by these gangs, as shown by Eva’s statement of “we protect our own” and Andre’s comment about how his brother taught him to do anything it takes to survive. They have the ability to learn, but they do not see how school based knowledge fits their world. These kids are given negative labels like losers and non achievers; nothing is expected from them and they do not disappoint. Lacking the socialization that usually occurs by this age they are disruptive, rude show no respect for Gruwell. Her lesson plans fail. The staff are not supportive telling her to just push them through. The kids know this is how they are perceived as is shown by the student who says no one stopped him getting this far without trying. We see attribution theory at work when the kids label white people as having it easy, I think her difficulty with the administration actually helps her model the opposite, because she must work to achieve. Gruwell is an effective teacher as shown by her students’ success. We see effectiveness by the students’ attitude change; they start to ask and respond to questions. Eventually, they make suggestions, go to the library and become invested in their education. The toast for change scene where the student reads from his journal and says he is “home” shows that she has created a safe place for these students and has thus satisfied the need for safety and belonging. Both Erikson and Maslow state that these are needs must be met before learning can take place. Gruwell uses good teaching practices. She is an authoritative teacher who gets respect by giving and expecting it, she developed a genuine connection and affection for her students. She uses reflective methods to improve her teaching and change lesson plans when teachable moments occur as we see when she intercepts a racist drawing. This prompts her to relate gang mentality and discrimination to the Nazis and the Holocaust. This attempt to relate new learning to existing schemas failed since none of her students had heard of the Holocaust. She only makes promises she can keep and in addition to safety gives these kids two things they do not get in the mainstream world, respect and a voice. Gruwell uses primarily social and humanistic approaches to build motivation. Her message throughout the movie is that their stories matter and she cares. As such, she focuses on building trust, self-concept, and self- actualization. This leads to better social relationships and a desire to improve both themselves and others. In the toast for change we see a student who says she will not tolerate abuse from anyone and the comfort given to a student who lost his home. She also uses cognitive learning methods by using active learning and hands on projects. To develop good readers she chooses material which has teen protagonists living through war and characters making moral decisions which help her students connect on an emotional level. Because they parallel the violence in the students’ own lives these also serve as effective role models and provide for integration of new learning. The Holocaust incident coupled with the inability to move students in her class due to racial segregation and witnessing the segregation and gang violence on the school grounds moves her in a new direction. She understands that before learning can take place she must first meet basic needs (Maslow) such as safety. Secondly, she must help the students overcome the feelings of learned helplessness, lack of motivation and poor self-efficacy related to school. To unite...
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