Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A Connection in Words; 'Freedom Writers' Shows How Teacher Made a Difference

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A Connection in Words; 'Freedom Writers' Shows How Teacher Made a Difference

Article excerpt


Attention, please. Freedom Writers is now showing, and attendance is strongly encouraged.

It's the story of an idealistic teacher named Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank) who manages to teach delinquents and gang members the basics of English along with lessons about tolerance, empathy and hope. She does it with little administrative support, scant supplies, much innovation and endless reserves of determination.

Yes, the material has been covered before. Blackboard Jungle made its big screen debut in 1955. Then came To Sir, With Love and, later, Dangerous Minds - to name just a few. No matter, Freedom Writers offers an earnest message, a true story that seems almost too good to be true. The audience in the theater during the screening really did laugh, cry and applaud.

Gruwell is a real person, and so are the problems of her students. Set in Southern California amid ongoing racial tensions fueled by the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict in the early 1990s, the movie is based on events revealed in The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them.

Gruwell's upbeat facade shatters after she intercepts a racist drawing of a black student depicted with abnormally large lips. She asks how many have heard about the Holocaust. Her one white student raises his hand. When she asks who has ever been shot at, almost every hand goes into the air.

She abandons her plans to teach Homer, and beginning with The Diary of Anne Frank, Gruwell shows her charges how one person coped with hatred and persecution. They move on to other books that reflect the impoverished, violent and racially charged environment in which her students live. She gives each of the students a standard black-and-white composition book and tells them to write their own stories.

Gruwell teaches them how reading and writing connect people, how similar experiences transcend ethnic strife and turf wars. …

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