Honors English 11 April 12, 2013 “l had lunch before class in the high school quad and noticed that, like everywhere else, it was really separated by race. Each race has its own section and nobody mixes. Everyone, including me, eats lunch with their own kind, and that’s that… From what’s going on around me, it’s obvious that the divisions in the quad carry into the classroom” – Diary #2 (Freedom Writers 8). This student describes an environment that is segregated as a matter of practice. Everyday people are faced with difficult obstacles in their lives that affect their education.
In The Freedom Writers Diary, students disengaged from education because of the violence they face, the loss of people they love, and the stereotyping and attitudes brought on by the school. The first major problem in The Freedom Writers Diary that the students encounter is the horrific violence in and out of school. The setting is Long Beach, California in the fall of 1994 at Woodrow Wilson High School. A teacher, Erin Gruel the daughter of a civil rights activist came to teach the worst class possible and was shocked with what she saw (Laurie).
In the film, The Freedom Writers was made following the Rodney King trial in 1992 and the CO Simpson murder case in 1994. These trials brought out the sensitive issues about injustices experienced by people of different ethnic origin. The Rodney King trial provided the film’s background and was presented by showing footages of the 1992 Los Angels riot. The riot that started April 29, 1992 was triggered by the public announcement over the decision to acquit the LAP officers charged with beating Rodney King.
The court decided to rule that the police officers were not guilty in relation to the police brutality experienced by Rodney King on March 3, 1991 due to his violation of speeding. During those times the color or race of a person was a significant consideration on how people related to one another; how they were perceived as members of the society; and how they were treated. The 1992 Los Angels riot was a reaction to the bottled up hostilities among people due to the perceived inequality brought about by the differences in the color or race (Coleman).
Erin found herself in an old beat up class-room filled with troubled kids who many said, were, “untouchable, at- risk” students (Gruel). A class of left-behind ghetto ids nobody cared about or believed in (Vendor). Many were homeless, abused drugs, involved with criminal activity, came from incarcerated families, and/or belonged to gangs (Laurie). It was very clear that these students had no interest in being in her class. They all blamed each other for their friends being killed and that’s where a lot of the tension came from (Laurie).
Teenagers in the rough neighborhoods of California thought that they were destined to become gang members with their respective races, to fight a battle that their ancestors started. During this time period, manage gang members felt that high school was a forced education and that they were only in there because the government made them. The movie portrays the students as kids who don’t know any better than to survive on the streets (The Freedom Writers, Question the Story). Without question, the students in The Freedom Writers encounter grueling violence.
In addition to the students encountering violence, they nave to overcome the loss to loved ones. Many to the students came from single parent homes and many Jumped from home to home (Addison). One of the first books that Ms. Gruel gave to her students was The Diary of Anne Frank cause she felt as if the kids really could relate to Anne (Wobbly). It is a book they feel an instant connection. Not only can they understand Ann.’s anger, but they also know her feelings of helplessness and alienation in a world she cannot control but which threatens to destroy her.
With drive by shootings, random attacks and gang wars a normal part of their own lives, they see the destructive power of prejudice and blind hatred. They can actually feel her hurt because of their own loss of loved ones in their lives. One similarity that all the students had with Anne Frank was that they ride hiding from the fears and the life outside the school or in Ann.’s case the little apartment (Wobbly). Just like Hitler thought that the Jews were a lost cause the school thought the students were a lost cause as well, and didn’t give them all the privileges that other kids had.
After reading the book, Erin had her students write in a diary and record anything they wanted to. Knowing that every one of her students had a story to tell, Erin encourages them to keep a daily Journal of their thoughts and experiences. She gave them the option that if they felt comfortable enough for her to dead them, then they were to turn them in at the end of the day. Erin was surprised to find out their true stories. After reading The Diary of Anne Frank, Ms.
Gruel takes the students to the Holocaust Museum because she wanted them to see how rough the Jews lives really were (The Freedom Writers, question the story). When the students learn that MIPS Gees, the Dutch woman who risked her life to keep the Frank family hidden, is still alive in the Netherlands, they started a fund raiser to bring her to their class as a guest speaker. They were all moved by the courageous stories of his now elderly woman, the students instantly sees her as a hero. “l was not a hero,” she says. L was an ordinary person. All I did was do the right thing. But you are heroes’ every day. You are turning on a light in a dark room. “(Wobbly). This was an inspiring speech to all of the students; it showed them no matter how much they have endured with losing their family and friends they were able to make a change for the better. Again, the students had to overcome the loss of their loved ones way too often. Another issue the students had to overcome was stereotyping and bad attitudes at the school.
Not only does Gruel meet opposition from her students, but she also has a hard time with her department head, which refuses to let her teach with books in case they get damaged and lost, and instead tells her to focus on teaching the students discipline and obedience. The teachers there were being stereotypical and believed the students in room 203 didn’t have a chance to graduate. The students were convinced that they had nothing to learn from a white woman who had never experienced firsthand violence, discrimination, and hatred that was part of their everyday lives. The students separate themselves into racial roofs in the classroom.
Fights break out and eventually some of the students stop showing up to Ms. Gruel classroom. There was one part when one of her students drew a stereotypical racist cartoon of one of her students which was passed around the class. Before Ms. Gruel went to teach she understood how bad the integration program worked. She knew that the separation of whites from any other race in the school was huge (Addison). The segregation was so bad that the whites were grouped together, they attended separate classes and even and a separate bell system separating the have and the have not’s (Addison).
In one of the first Journal entries one student asked a simple question, “What am I doing in here. ” They all talk about their first couple days and how there’s always these big fights breaking out (Gruel 26). One of the boys who was the only white kid in the class tells the reader in his journal that there are all these different groups and they all have names such as “Tijuana Town” or “Run for the Border” insinuating Hispanic groups and “China Town” for the Asians.
Then there are the whites who are called “Beverly Hills” or “Disney-land” (Gruel 26). There are all these different groups and it shows when hey get into the classroom on the first day of school and slide their desks together to block everything out (Laggardness). Without question, stereotyping and attitudes of school personnel was a problem for the students. If you have read the book then you need to see the movie or vice versa. There are some differences between the movie and what happened in real life.
Laggardness who was the producer said that he was attracted to the story because “in this country we dismiss kids who aren’t showing up for class or aren’t doing what they can, aren’t learning”(Laurie). He also said the hole point in the movie was to show their lives and how a teacher listened to them and figured out how to teach them instead of letting them fail and then after reading their stories he realized how they could possibly be thinking of homework when they have all these problems (Laurie). Ms. Gruel inspired them to see another world that was more vicious and violent then their own lives.
She sacrifices her time and marriage Just to help her students succeed in life and walk in the right path. Erin strives to help others achieve their potential and become free through becoming self- oilfield shows the importance of looking beyond external appearances to see whom a person really is (Coleman). She shows her students the parallels of others who came before them to their own lives, recording their thoughts and feelings in diaries and calling themselves the “Freedom Writers” referring back to the civil rights activists “The Freedom Riders” (Gruel).
Nobody ever gave these students the time and encouragement to guide them the right way, but instead, they only looked down and Judged them on where they came from and labeled them as bad kids. In the vie we see that it is filmed in a classroom. It wasn’t filmed in the actual 1993 Wilson High School classroom because the real classroom was renovated that changed the room dramatically (The Freedom Writers, Question the Story). In Conclusion, many are faced with violence, death and stereotypical attitudes every day of their lives.
This is an inspiring story of a loving and determined teacher and her forever changed students. This was a story that started bad, but turned out good. Unfortunately, all stories will not end like this one, but it would be nice if they did.