“I realized if you can change a classroom, you can change a community, and if you change enough communities you can change the world.”
Erin Gruwell is a teacher of the “unteachable”, an advocate for education, and the founder of the Freedom Writers Foundation. Utilizing specific literature selections and memoir writing to reach students, she altered her classroom and changed lives.
Teaching and Inspiring
Fueled by the LA riots, Gruwell shunned her attorney aspirations in order to make a difference in the lives of young people. She found employment at Woodrow Wilson High, a school in Long Beach, California, teaching the low performing students. In a city steeped in racial tension and violence, Gruwell used egregious examples of intolerance to teach tolerance in her classroom. Her methods resonated with her students, as she made students see how literature mirrored their lives. Their personal knowledge of gangs helped them understand the complexities of Romeo and Juliet. The injustice and racial oppression they encountered helped them connect to the story of Anne Frank.
With a focus on personal writing and journaling, Gruwell was able to connect with her students. The teenagers were told to write about their experiences. Their memoirs were eventually published in The Freedom Writers Diary and led to the Freedom Writers film. Erin Gruwell’s devotion to her students was seen as they invited guest speakers, had outings, and were pushed and praised along the way. By approaching these students from a different angle, she was able to get through to each student, all of whom went on to graduate high school. Many of these students graduated college and became teachers themselves.
The Freedom Writers Foundation
Today, Gruwell educates teachers, demonstrating how they can implement her ideas in their own classrooms. She formed The Freedom Writers Foundation, which aspires to improve the education of students across the nation, with a focus on outreach, teachers, curriculum, and scholars. With a proven methodology, they train teachers to improve student engagement and form classrooms of acceptance. They maintain a focus on engaging, enlightening, and empowering their pupils.
Oprah, Good Morning America, and Prime Time with Connie Chung have recognized Gruwell’s work. She and her students have been recipients of many awards, including the Spirit of Anne Frank Award. By abandoning a standard pedagogical approach for one that fostered community, inclusion, and empathy, Gruwell has made a deep impact in the field of education and the lives of many.