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"Freedom Writer's Diary"- A True Story
The Freedom Writers Diary
The Freedom Writers Diary is an interesting and realistic depiction of everyday life through the eyes of real high school students. The diary entries, although most likely edited for a polished product, offer a fresh glimpse into modern social problems of all types, including the tensions that arise from living within a culturally diverse environment.
The teacher, Ms. Gruwell, must adapt her curriculum to students who aren’t inspired to read. Her involvement with inner city children also raises controversy, and her public image is tainted, but she remains devoted. She even is harassed verbally by members of society for her devotion to her students, regarding their race. One of her neighbors even says “If you love black people so much, why don’t you just marry a monkey?” (4)
The students face racial tension at school, at home, and even on the streets. Racial tension is a focal point throughout the diary entries, and is obviously a source of physical violence, and a great deal of strife in the lives of young students, who are simply trying to adapt to an environment that doesn’t always necessarily embrace them.
From the beginning, the students express feelings of helplessness. They seem doubtful that Ms. Gruwell will be able to “reform a group of helpless, ‘sure to drop out’ kids from the ‘hood.” (6) In entry #1, the writer refers to a white student who has entered the classroom and is in the corner. The writer talks about the white student as a minority: “for his entire life he’s been part of the majority, but as soon as he stepped into the room, he became the minority.” (7) The writer shows an understanding of the social status based on race, and the negative tension that can arise from having to live with that reality. These notions of separation prevent human connection, not even offering an opportunity for relationships.
In entry #2, the writer goes into detail about the clearly drawn lines between “categories” of students. Various lifestyles, including the behavior and dress of students, begin to divide them into cliques. Beverly Hills or Disneyland are the rich white kids, China Town are the Asians, Da Ghetto are the blacks, etc. The racial divisions and segregations of urban society manifest themselves in smaller form, made apparent by the divisions of the high school students. They are simply imitating the manners and social habits of their families and the world in which they live.
In entry #3, the writer discusses the presence of racial tension, and an extreme form of ethnocentrism which results in murder, greed and civil unrest: “The war has been declared, now it’s a fight for money, power, and territory; we are killing each other over race, pride and respect.” Gang violence is a fact of life in present-day America, and claims the lives of real people everyday.
In the diary entries, the students are filled with animosity. They are forced to live in a world that requires them to face the reality that they must defend themselves. They face the truth that if they do not commit to hardening themselves, they will inevitably face elimination. In entry #5, the writer discusses how easy it is to illegally purchase a firearm for the sake of personal protection.
Everyday, real people die due to gang violence, hate crimes, and racial tensions. In entry #6, the writer gives a first-hand account of a murder. The victim’s mother is “standing there, unable to help her baby.” (15) Senseless violence that is rooted in a past which perpetuates itself, one predator at a time. The writer expresses a deep seated psychological pain with the reality of losing a dear friend to violence: “I couldn’t stop reliving the nightmare of my friend’s death.” (16)
The writer of entry #6 deftly defines this violence as “an undeclared war”, which is exactly what it is. There are no rules of engagement. There was no determined starting date, and the outcome is indefinite: “A war that has been here for years but has never been recognized. A war between color and race. A war that will never end.” (16)
There is a lack of grace in the lives of these students. Their lives become “survival of the fittest, kill or be killed.” (17) The writer of entry #7 gives a first hand account of gang warfare, and makes a paradoxical analogy of gang brotherhood to baptism: “every time I jump somebody in and make someone a part of our gang, it’s another baptism: They give us their life and we give them a new one.” The writer looks at entering the gang as a rite of passage. The lack of connection and fellowship at home causes children to seek a family environment elsewhere, often landing them in gangs.
In entry #8, the writer discusses her entry into a sorority. The young woman views the sorority as a type of elite society, a way of rising on the social ladder. Sadly, sorority girls are often subjected to objectification, and often become the source of a sort of unspoken prostitution.
In entry #9, the writer discusses smoking pot and drawing graffiti as a means of escape. The writer states that he would rather be doing that than gang-banging or dealing drugs.
The students are forced to face the reality that they may get lynched by members of opposing groups. The writer of entry #12 is ganged up on by three “wanna-be gangsters.” The writer is taken to juvenile hall for fighting back, and expresses feelings of being a caged animal. These feelings can be attributed to a human being who feels that he is stuck in a system that he can’t get out of, who feels that there is no desire to do good since there is no hope of freedom in sight.
Ms. Gruwell refers to her student as a “walking encyclopedia when it comes to pop culture, quoting the lines from their favorite movies verbatim or reciting every lyric from the latest rap CD.” (31) These students are products of a culture that embraces money, superficial appearance, and instant gratification.
One of the writers discusses bouts with her father, and facing the reality of abuse within home. The writer discusses the horrors of being verbally and physically abused by her parents.
Another writer becomes the butt of jokes about obesity. Gang mentality and bullying are alive in American schools. They tear people apart on the inside, and even cause suicide. Gang bullying shows a shallow state of mind in which children are taught that they must belittle others to enlarge their own egos.
On more than one occurrence, the writers call their class the “Freedom Writer family.” It is apparent that some of these children weren’t getting the relation and connection that they needed within the walls of their home, and subsequently went out in search of another form of family. This seems to be a common occurrence, in which parents are too busy with their careers or own personal ventures to consider that they are losing their children. When children do not receive the attention, participation, and support of their parents at home, they naturally seek it in other forms. Sadly, those “other forms” usually are gangs and fellow drug addicts.
One fascinating aspect of this book was to witness that the writers improve their craft over the four years that they write in their journals. Even though the book is edited, it is apparent that these writers mature a great deal in the four years that they were with Ms. Gruwell. It shows in the later writings that they are more educated and focused. The writing is more compact and multi-dimensional; it is also less clouded by personal opinion and negativity.