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The Freedom Writers & Erin Gruwell

How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them

4.5 (147 ratings)
17 mins

Brief summary

The Freedom Writers Diary by Erin Gruwell is a powerful collection of journal entries from high school students who overcame adversity through the transformative power of education. Their inspiring stories demonstrate the importance of empathy and the potential for positive change.

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    The Freedom Writers Diary
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    Freshman year

    Do you remember your first “grown-up” job? The nerves, the sense of responsibility? Did you have any idea of where you would end up today?

    Erin Gruwell certainly had no idea of how much she and her students would accomplish in four short years. She had completed a year of student teaching at Wilson High School and saw great success with the class she had, but the fall of 1994 was her first year as an official teacher. Because the school ran on a system of seniority, she was given the “trouble” freshman classes that year. She was nervous yet optimistic, and wanted to make a difference in the lives of her students.

    The students were quick to think little of Gruwell, judging her – and their fellow students – on the prejudices commonly accepted within their school and local society. They thought she would soon give up on them and treat them as the other teachers had. They viewed themselves along strict racial lines – the white students sat with white students; the Black students sat with Black students; the Asian students with Asian students. They saw their school as a smaller version of their neighborhoods and the gang rivalries that existed within them. Along with that was the belief that in life, when someone gets hit, the only response was to hit back.

    Some of the students started to find an outlet in Gruwell’s class, as she encouraged them to talk about local issues. One of these was Proposition 187, which would allow the government to take away public programs like healthcare and schooling from illegal immigrants. Many of the students or their families would be affected by its passing.

    Yet Gruwell struggled to engage the students. She tried choosing books that the students could relate to and had them complete projects like making a movie of the books they read. Many students hadn’t ever read a book in which they could relate to the main character. Their films of the books were creative and compelling, and Gruwell took them to see professional films as a reward. She assigned Romeo and Juliet and likened the warring families to the Latino and Asian gang rivalries some of her students were involved in. This helped them see the similarities and lack of reason for the fighting in both cases. She took her students to see documentaries about social injustice, exposed them to the stories of Holocaust survivors and US citizens of Japanese descent who had been interned in camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. 

    Slowly, the students began to question their own prejudicial views of those who appeared different from them. Gruwell’s encouragement helped immensely; many of her students had never had an adult tell them they believed in them, as Gruwell did. 

    Many students who’d started the year thinking school was pointless were even excited to take Gruwell’s class again the following year.

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    What is The Freedom Writers Diary about?

    The Freedom Writers Diary (1999) chronicles the journey of students at Wilson High School in California and their English teacher. From their freshman year in the fall of 1994 to graduation in the spring of 1998, the teens learned about and stood up to countless social issues, transforming from so-called “unteachable, at-risk students” into the self-dubbed “Freedom Writers.” Their book recounts their collective experiences, struggles, and triumphs.

    The Freedom Writers Diary Review

    The Freedom Writers Diary (1999) is a powerful and insightful book that shares the true stories of a group of at-risk students who found hope and inspiration through writing. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • The book offers a unique and authentic perspective on the challenges faced by marginalized youth and the transformative power of education.
    • Through raw and honest personal accounts, it sheds light on the harsh realities of systemic injustice and the resilience of the human spirit.
    • By showcasing the students' struggles, triumphs, and growth, it celebrates the importance of empathy, understanding, and compassion in creating social change.

    Who should read The Freedom Writers Diary?

    • Anyone interested in social change and activism
    • Those curious about the original Freedom Writers
    • People looking for inspiration in overcoming social and economic obstacles

    About the Author

    Erin Gruwell is an English teacher from the United States, best known for her teaching methods and philosophy. She is an activist and speaker focused on teaching tolerance and hope. Her other books include Teach With Your Heart and Teaching Hope.

    The original Freedom Writers consist of 150 of Gruwell’s students from Wilson High School in California. As high school students, they grew into dedicated activists, changing the world around them and attending college despite facing incredible obstacles. Together, the Freedom Writers and Erin Gruwell have also published Dear Freedom Writers.

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    The Freedom Writers Diary FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Freedom Writers Diary?

    The main message of The Freedom Writers Diary is the transformative power of education and the importance of empathy and understanding.

    How long does it take to read The Freedom Writers Diary?

    The reading time for The Freedom Writers Diary varies, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Freedom Writers Diary a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Freedom Writers Diary is an inspiring and eye-opening book. It offers powerful insights into the lives of the students and the impact of a dedicated teacher. Definitely worth reading.

    Who is the author of The Freedom Writers Diary?

    The author of The Freedom Writers Diary is The Freedom Writers & Erin Gruwell.

    What to read after The Freedom Writers Diary?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Freedom Writers Diary, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • The Leader In You by Dale Carnegie
    • The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss
    • When Genius Failed by Roger Lowenstein
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