The Freedom Writers Diary by The Freedom Writers with Erin Gruwell.
Broadway Books/Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group: NY, 1999.

Wow! What an indescribably powerful book. I cannot believe it took so long to learn about it. The contents are eyeopening, insightful, intense. It is awe-inspiring in many ways: the techniques the teacher uses to engage students disregarded by everyone else, the lengths she went to show them the relevance of both literature and strangers, the progression from the hopelessness of depressing living conditions to the determination to not only improve their own lives but stand for social change, and the excruciatingly honest, personal and insightful discussion of the students in their diaries.

Erin Gruwell, a young and fledgling teacher in 1994, committed herself to truly making a difference in the education and lives of her misfit students. She had her English class for freshman and sophomore years. Then, because the class had been so successful, where they were expected to fail and drop out, she was allowed to continue teaching her students, who had become close and committed to each other, all four years. Her class was a much needed safe haven for them. Through those four years, the class became an instrument of social change. The catalyst for the incredible change included the high level of participation of the class, the topics and books picked to correspond with the lives of the students, unusual opportunities given to the students, and the teacher's belief in her students.

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the book is the deep discussion in the diaries with evidence of growth within each student. They poured their hearts and souls into their writings-inspired by Anne Frank and Zlata Filipovic of Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo. In the process, their minds and hearts opened in a way they could never have imagined. Just reading the book (halfway through), I could see the truth of this. These students, having seen so much suffering, were profoundly studying issues most adults refuse to face-and learning to approach them from a standpoint of wisdom and equality. The breadth of the issues is also astounding. There is something there for everyone to relate to. In the beginning, the entries were mostly about racism, violence and uselessness. But the more open the students became, the more profound the discussion.

In all of my homeschool years, I have believed in a key part of these students' success. For any struggling readers, subject matter relevant to the readers' lives can make all the difference in their desire to read and learn. The emphasis on involvement is important, too. In this case, the affirmation that the students' stories mattered. Because they wrote anonymously, they were willing to be honest about the secrets of their lives. They proofread each others' diaries and learned of others' painful experiences. They found common ground. Their class grew and grew in scope and depth, because they had learned that education is about life-and it doesn't stop outside of the classroom.

related-teenagers, tolerance, Wilson High School, Long Beach, California, relevance of education and literature, reaching and inspiring underprivileged youth, teaching techniques, journals
RL=YA-adult, mature content

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