Adversity at Its Finest: Freedom Writers

Tenth Anniversary Edition CoverBy Amanda Szramiak — “She never wants to be congratulated of held responsible for the great things that came out of Room 203 at Wilson High School, but she must be,” explains Zlata Filipovic in The Freedom Writers Diary foreword (xii).

The Freedom Writers Diary is a non-fiction compilation of work from Ms. Gruwell’s Room 203 at Wilson High School. The book consists of a compilation of diary entries from Ms. Gruwell and her class discussing almost everything and everything.

Ms. Gruwell began her teaching career at Wilson High School in Long Beach, California in the fall of 1994 (1). Because the students had legitimate fears in their lives, Ms. Gruwell created an honor code, which keeps the students’ identities anonymous (140). After her first encounter with her freshman in Room 203, Ms. Gruwell decided to “make tolerance the core of my curriculum,” and (although I know the story) I tipped my hat off to her.

To say Ms. Gruwell faced adversity is an undeniable understatement.

One student explained, “ I’m pretty sure she thinks she’s the one who’s going to change us”(6). Ironically, Ms. Gruwell did more than simply change her students. Ms. Gruwell offered something to the students that they have never had: hope. One diary entry explains an extraordinary personal identification he shares with a character in one of the books they are reading. Diary 12 explains, “Like Rufus, I turned my life around”(28).

Ms. Gruwell used relatable books to show the students that they are not alone in facing challenges, and they capable of so much more than they believe.

Because Ms. Gruwell was able to connect schoolwork to her students’ daily lives, the students began to trust their teacher, but more importantly they began to believe in themselves. Diary 24 describes a devastating eviction that no one, especially a child, should ever have to go through (52). Despite the unfortunate circumstances of this student’s life, he writes, “I walk in the room and I feel as though all the problems in my life are not important anymore. I am home”(54). As an aspiring teacher, creating a safe environment for my students is of the utmost importance to me.

Ms. Gruwell’s resilience, towards both her students and fellow teachers, encourages me as a future educator. I want my students to know that I am undoubtedly invested in their well being, inside and outside of the classroom.

Diary 97 describes, “The Freedom Writers filled this huge hole I had by giving me a safe place where I always knew someone cared”(189). Although I may not have the profound, lifesaving impact on all my students the way she did, I hope to be as strong of a teacher as she was.

Spring 1997 is when the students begin the new writing project, which eventually becomes this book. Ms. Gruwell’s entry explains Zlata is the inspiration for this compilation, and the honor code for anonymity is created (140). After meeting the inspiring characters from the books that they read and traveling to promote their diary filled masterpiece, the Freedom Writers became seniors. Ms. Gruwell’s main goal for the fall 1997 semester was “to get the Freedom Writers thinking about their future”(192). She utilized her resources and created a seminar in which graduate students served as mentors to ALL of the Freedom Writers (193). Ms. Gruwell’s consistent efforts to motivate her students to do more are admirable. I firmly believe it is easier to believe in yourself when you have a support system, and Ms. Gruwell and the Freedom Writers had one of the best.

When I am a teacher, I want to encourage my students to pursue their dreams to the fullest extent. I hope to evoke a sense of community that supports my students’ in all their endeavors. I plan to reference The Freedom Writers Diary whenever I am faced with adversity or when I am second-guessing my teaching abilities. I can only hope to be half the teacher Ms. Gruwell was to the “underachieving” class at Wilson High School during those four years.

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