The Freedom Writers Diary
|Author||The Freedom Writers with Erin Gruwell|
The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them is a non-fiction 1999 book written by The Freedom Writers, a group of students from Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California, and their teacher Erin Gruwell. It is the basis of the 2007 movie Freedom Writers, starring Hilary Swank.
The Freedom Writers Diary was made up of journals that Erin Gruwell told her students to write in about the troubles of their past, present and future. The Freedom Writers name pays homage to the name of the 1960s civil rights group Freedom Riders.
After intercepting a racist drawing from one of her students, Gruwell compared the drawings to Nazi propaganda techniques. She drew blank stares; only one of them had heard of the Holocaust. As a result, she assigned them to read and write about The Diary of Anne Frank and Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo.
The Freedom Writers Foundation continued with exercises and philosophies similar to those used in the original class, and tracks the progress of the original and continuing classes.
As an idealistic twenty-three-year-old English teacher at Wilson High School in Long Beach, California, Erin Gruwell confronted a room of “unteachable, at-risk” students. One day she intercepted a note with an ugly racial caricature, and angrily declared that this was precisely the sort of thing that led to the Jewish Holocaust—only to be met by uncomprehending looks. So she and her students, using the treasured books Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo as their guides, undertook a life-changing, eye-opening, spirit-raising odyssey against intolerance and misunderstanding. They learned to see the parallels in these books to their own lives, recording their thoughts and feelings in diaries and dubbing themselves the “Freedom Writers” in homage to the civil rights activists “The Freedom Riders.”
With funds raised by a “Read-a-thon for Tolerance,” they arranged for Miep Gies, the Dutch woman who sheltered the Frank family, to visit them in California, where she declared that Erin Gruwell’s students were “the real heroes.” Their efforts have paid off spectacularly, both in terms of recognition—appearances on “Prime Time Live” and “All Things Considered,” coverage in People magazine, a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley—and educationally. All 150 Freedom Writers have graduated from high school and many are now attending college.
Banning of the book in schools
On March 11, 2008, an English teacher at Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis, Indiana, Connie Heermian, was suspended for a year and a half without pay for using the Freedom Writers Diary in her classroom against the wishes of the school board. Administrators objected to racial slurs and sexual content in portions of the book. Heerman had received permission the previous year to attend a workshop based on the books and obtained permission slips from the parents involved. The school board contends that Heermen did not properly follow the rules to receive permission to use the book. Erin Gruwell commented on the controversy, saying, "The best way to get a teenager to read a book is to ban it. When someone who is a daunting authority figure says, 'Give us your book', I think these students [thought], 'There must be something powerful in these words'. "
- Diary of a Freedom Writer, Garrett, Darius, 2013, Tate Publishing, 978-1625635808
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