10 May 2014
Their Story, Their Words
The Freedom Writers Diary by Erin Gruwell is a nonfiction account of how a teacher and 150 students used writing to change themselves and the world around them. It was first published in 1999 by Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and was copyrighted in 1999 by The Tolerance Education Foundation.
The Freedom Writers Diary chronicles the true story of an English teacher, Erin Gruwell, and her first teaching assignment in Long Beach, California, working with students other teachers deemed "unteachable." Gruwell quickly learned that her students had more to worry about than homework; her students went home to gunfire, gangs, drugs, and a host of other difficult situations. The students were convinced that they had nothing to learn from a white woman who had never experienced firsthand the violence, discrimination, and hatred that was part of their everyday lives. Gruwell intercepted a note being passed between students one day. The paper revealed a racist satire full of hate. Gruwell told her class that it was this sort of hate and misunderstanding that led to the Holocaust. Her statement was greeted with confusion spread throughout the classroom. Gruwell was shocked to learn that her students had never heard of the Holocaust. She introduced her class to Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and to Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo. She also provided every student with a journal in order for them to have a place to discuss their feelings, their fears, and their experiences. For the first time, the students took an interest in academics. To bring this history to life, the students organized a "Read-a-Thon for Tolerance" to raise money to bring Miep Gies, the woman whose family hid Anne Frank, to their school. They were also visited by Zlata Filipovic.
It is nothing less than a miracle that all 150 of the Freedom Writers graduated from high school and...
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