Touching Your Heart: THE FREEDOM WRITERS

The hubby and I like movies. I am sure I have written about that before. Sometimes, though, it is hard to decide whether anything is worth seeing. The last movie we saw was THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. While this movie could be said to be inspiring in that Chris Gardner overcame the obstacles in his life to achieve financial stability, what it was NOT was uplifting. True, the movie dealt with overcoming obstacles, and Chris Gardner did that. I admire him for his perseverance. Still, it seemed to me that a large part of the movie led one to believe that money can solve all your problems.

The movie we went to yesterday, THE FREEDOM WRITERS , put more emphasis on valuing individuals as a way to make changes in society and in your own life as well. But wait. Maybe I should tell you why I wanted to see the movie in the first place. I used to teach English, and once you win kids to the idea that writing can be cathartic, it seems to me that they claim ownership of the process, gaining both educational and emotional benefits. It is hard for teenagers to believe that they have stories to tell, but once they find willing readers, a lot of them will pour their hearts out. In one of the English classes where I work, the sophomores were asked to write a horror story after reading Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum.” The boys particularly liked that idea. One of them didn’t write. He has other priorities in his life right now. His sister, who is in another class with the same teacher, though, did complete the assignment. The boy, who seldom cooperates in class, was quick to ask the teacher what he thought of the sister’s essay. “She wrote that about our home life, you know, ” is what he said. “That’s all real.”

Ouch. And you wonder why the boy misbehaves.

What teacher Erin Gruwell appears to have by mentoring the Freedom Writers is to have listened to the stories that “her” kids had to tell. Just by the act of listening, she placed value on their lives, something with which they had very little experience.

The movie is set in California, in an integrated high school just after the Rodney King riots. The job is Erin’s first. It is obvious, at least in the movie, that the students Erin was to teach had been written off by the system. While I wish I could say that such instances are rare, I see them every day in the job that I do. Teachers feel that kids who perform below average aren’t worth their time or talent, aren’t even worth the effort involved to reach them.

Erin Gruwell put a lot of effort into understanding her kids. She took on extra jobs to pay for supplies that the department head would not issue to her. Her kids were impressed. In one scene that moved my husband deeply, the kids actually were smelling the books, commenting to one another that the books were brand new. All of a sudden, someone trusted them with something of value. And because of that trust, the kids began to open up to one another and to learning.

The Freedom Writers have their own website now, where you can read about what happened to them and why they do what they do. Many of them are pursuing or have received undergraduate and graduate degrees in education, and they mentor students that would like to succeed. The thing that sticks out to me in their explanation of their mission is this. Having felt that they were written off, they are dedicated to “form a community like the one we formed in Room 203, where people feel safe, accepted, and understood.”

Shouldn’t that be the goal of teachers everywhere?


1 Response to “Touching Your Heart: THE FREEDOM WRITERS”

  1. 1 Shirley January 31, 2007 at 2:25 am

    This is a special invitation to visit my new blog.

    Shirley Buxton

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