Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Freedom Writers

The other day I finished The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them. If you haven't read the book or seen the video, put them on your summer to do list!

Erin Gruwell is a novice high school English teacher who inspires her students to overcome the violence, bigotry, and poverty of their East L.A. neighborhoods through her effort to form personal connections with these students and allowing them to express themselves through writing. Visit her website to learn more about her teaching practices.

Ms. Gruwell’s students articulate the pain of abuse, neglect, bullying, drugs, homelessness, abandonment, shop lifting, prison, suicide, and gang wars to name a few. The students feel like outsiders because of their race, sexual preference, learning disabilities, obesity, -- you name it. They suffer a loss of “childhood” which results in a loss of hope. Ms. Gruwell shares with them the stories of Anne Frank, Zlata Filipovic and others so they see that even under extreme adversity an individual can make a difference. Her message is so empowering.

Although I teach elementary school students in a working class suburb of Baltimore, the story still resonates with me. At my school, I too see students who are not protected from the harsh realities of the world. Columbine, 911, and the Virgina Tech shootings make it difficult for any child to stay a child for long. Additionally, the rapid pace of change and increasingly impersonal aspects of a growing society adds to students’ feelings of isolation. A caring teaching and the ability to voice one’s story are potent tools to combat these forces. The leads me to ponder how Web 2.0 technologies can boost this process.

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