The most significant theme in The Freedom Writers Diary is tolerance and understanding. Gruwell's students hated one another for no reason other than they thought they were supposed to because of gang histories and stereotypes. Gruwell taught them that they actually had more in common than they wanted to believe. Many of the students had lost a friend or loved one to senseless violence. Many of them had been abused or molested. Many of them were victims of substance abuse. Because the education system had deemed them "at risk," Gruwell's colleagues were unwilling to devote the time, energy, and attention to the students that would foster a positive, safe environment for them to not only tolerate their differences but to accept and even appreciate them. Enter Erin Gruwell, an idealistic young teacher who was not willing to take no for an answer from students, parents, or administrators.
What The Freedom Writers Diary teaches readers is how empowerment can change lives. Once Gruwell convinced her students of their self-worth, they began to see their potential. The students felt empowered to take academic and intellectual risks in the classroom; the first 150 Freedom Writers all graduated from high school and many went on to attend college when most believed that they would not make it through even the ninth grade. Perhaps more important, they felt empowered to befriend those whom they had previously dismissed as "the enemy." Additionally, they were empowered to believe that they could be successful; for many of Gruwell's students, she was the first person in their lives who had believed that they had potential.
The importance of self-worth is yet another significant theme in The Freedom Writers Diary. Because so few of Gruwell's students had ever had someone believe in them, half of her battle was showing the students that they were not only capable but were worthy of receiving a good education. She showed them that they...
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When Erin Gruwell was assigned a class full of students who were labeled "at risk," she had no idea the challenges she would face. Many would have balked at what seemed like an insurmountable, Sisyphean task. On their website, the Freedom Writers explain that "on our first day of school, we had only three things in common: we hated school, we hated our teacher, and we hated each other."
A novice teacher with big ideas and an even bigger heart, Gruwell refused to allow her students' lives to become self-fulfilling prophecies. By holding them to high standards and presenting them with countless opportunities, Gruwell gave these students a chance to overcome the limitations imposed on them by society. Gruwell encouraged her students to "do something different, something memorable, something powerful and humane."
In response to the overwhelming popularity and success of The Freedom Writers Diary, Erin Gruwell established the Freedom Writers Foundation which "promotes acceptance and innovative teaching methods in classrooms around the country." Proceeds from the sale ofThe Freedom Writers Diary go to the Tolerance Education Foundation, which was established to pay for the Freedom Writers' college tuition.
Today, teachers and students around the globe can bring the original Freedom Writers into their classrooms via an online video chat. Erin Gruwell now serves as the president of the Freedom Writers Foundation. Her work has been featured on The View, Good Morning America, Book TV, and Oprah. Currently, there are 32 Freedom Writer Teachers implementing the Freedom Writer Method across the country.The core of this approach is not only recognizing but celebrating diversity in the classroom.
Erin Gruwell has also authored The Freedom Writers Diary Teacher's Guide, Teach With Your Heart: Lessons I Learned From the Freedom Writers, and Teaching Hope: Stories From the Freedom Writer Teachers and Erin Gruwell.
The Freedom Writers Diary was made into a major motion picture in 2007 starring Academy Award winner Hilary Swank and Patrick Dempsey.