The Freedom Writers Diary describes an English teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California who truly experienced the harsh realities of being a new teacher. Erin Gruwell entered a classroom filled with varying cultures, racial slurs, and threats reverberating off the walls. The book discusses the most radical forms of diversity within the classroom, and how difficult a teacher’s position can be amongst learners with cultural, religious, social, and economic differences. Not only did her students refuse to work together, they refused to work at all. Gruwell was forced to adapt her curriculum to accommodate a culturally responsible teaching strategy. In doing so, the teacher created the best possible learning environment for her students. The Freedom Writers Diary is a collection of journal entries written by Gruwell and her students. It is formatted in four sections: freshmen through senior year, and dialogues the events that unfold within the Wilson High School classroom. With an amazing personal commitment, as well as the aid of concerned community members, Gruwell provides her underprivileged students with new books, fresh materials, field trip opportunities, full-time attention, and even guest-speakers of the highest caliber. The book is one of unifying love, redemption, and finding hope in the darkest of times.
I strongly feel this book has universal appeal, for it pertains to real issues and real people. Any high school student can connect to the student writers. High schoolers might not completely understand the harsh realities of gang life in Long Beach, but they can grasp the other conflicts these students are presented with: anger, jealousy, guilt, remorse, and self-loathing. These internal struggles are ripe with universal appeal, for we all experience them at some point in our lives regardless of who we are or where we come from.
Although I would most definitely have to preface a unit focused on this book with a letter home to parents—for the fact that the book deals with very real stories of violence, sexual abuse, and gang life– I strongly feel the benefits far outweigh the consequences. As long as each of our classroom discussions are guided with respect, maturity, and tolerance, I think this book could serve as an amazing basis for a unit in a high school language arts classroom.