Published by Broadway Books on October 12th 2009
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER & NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE
Straight from the front line of urban America, the inspiring story of one fiercely determined teacher and her remarkable students.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 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 courageous 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 are now attending college.
With powerful entries from the students’ own diaries and a narrative text by Erin Gruwell, The Freedom Writers Diary is an uplifting, unforgettable example of how hard work, courage, and the spirit of determination changed the lives of a teacher and her students.
The authors’ proceeds from this book will be donated to The Tolerance Education Foundation, an organization set up to pay for the Freedom Writers’ college tuition. Erin Gruwell is now a visiting professor at California State University, Long Beach, where some of her students are Freedom Writers.
We studied the movie with a similar name last summer. I’m sure there’s a good reason why movie and book have similarities…possibly because they’re done by the same people. Those same people who inspire awe in me for how much they’ve accomplished, for how far they’ve come and for what they have set themselves to accomplish in the future.
Back in 1994 a young graduate teacher named Erin Gruwell got her first job. She was given the low-performing students to teach. Those the system had given up on, those in marginalised neighbourhoods, those who expected to never get through school let alone attend college. Instead she managed to teach them tolerance, perseverance and most of them finished school, a good many of them were the first in their families to graduate and many of them went onto attend College as the first in their families.
This book details all of these stories in the students’ own words. It is 142 diary entries written as part of class and chosen by the students themselves for this book. We are rarely given names so most of the entries are anonymous, I think this is because this is what Gruwell did in class. She made it easier for people to share their stories by having them write anonymously. Each entry is written by a different person.
So many of them were educational, Diary 69 is one of those. I’ve heard of the projects but never really understood. Diary 69 explains reasonably clearly what the projects is and how dangerous it is to be there. I finished Diary 69 with tears in my eyes and with the need to know if this person had survived…it’s that dangerous.
Diary 130 was a great illustration of how many of these students had to step up and become adults long before they were ready. This is the story of a teenage boy whose father has just become so sick he has to return home. Home? That’s Mexico. He’s not been blessed with US citizenship so in order to get his kidney transplant he had to go back to Mexico. This meant this teenage boy who was about to become the first in his family to enter college had to decline his place in college. Instead he had to get a full-time job and support his mother and his siblings. What I want to find out is if this boy managed to get to college some later time in his life. I really want this boy to succeed.
Diary 138 is one of those inspirational entries. Written by someone who has druggies for parents, whose parents would steal from their own child in order to buy more crack, by someone who was locked in the closet for an unspecified period of time, by someone who started planning for those times and hid food in that closet. Why is this inspirational? I learned so much from this entry. The two main things I learned is that this person was still studying. Despite not having enough food because her parents spent all their money on drugs she was still studying, not just studying but expecting to graduate. That’s tenacity right there. And the other thing I learned? That identifying the faults of those closest to you can be power. It can empower you to move on and choose a different path in life.
But what I’d really like is to meet some of these people. Tell them how much I admire them for what they’ve done. I’d like to see more of their stories to find more about what they came from and more about what they’ve done since school. Even those who didn’t manage to get to college, they’ve come so far and I’d like to know more.
This book is better than the original. How can I say that when I’ve not read the original? Easy, it has ten extra diary entries at the end written by ten of the original students so we see what some of them have done since school. We see the writing is that much more sophisticated and we see how they are now becoming ever so much more than they expected to be when they first saw Erin Gruwell in their classroom.