young boy of color sitting at a desk with an open notebook on it

The Freedom Writers Diary

by Erin Gruwell

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In The Freedom Writers Diary, how does education improve the characters' lives?

Quick answer:

Education helps the Freedom Writers become better people. It teaches them to appreciate their education and how to make the most of it.

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Participation in the Freedom Writers had many positive effects on the students as well as the teacher. One important benefit was to reduce the conceptual distinction between "education" and "life." Closely related was reducing the distinction between the production and consumption of knowledge.

As the students wrote more, they also read more and gained appreciation for a shorter feedback loop: reading immediately stimulated ideas, reflections, and memories that they quickly responded to through their own writing. By reading each other's work as well, they learned to own of the identity of "writer." The abstraction of material required for school was converted into the concreteness of words that real people struggled to get onto the page. Respect for that process—even under extreme duress, compared to what Anne Frank experienced—translated into shared consciousness of self-respect and pride of accomplishment. Also, a high percentage of students in the project graduated high school.

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In the form of reflection and journal writing, education ends up playing a vital role in Gruwell's life and the lives of her students.  Through teaching literature as an exploration of the individual in specific social contexts, Gruwell and her students are able to explore the issues of marginalization in their own lives and relate historical conditions of silencing voices to their own contexts.  The result is that education bridges the gap between classroom and real world settings.  There is a strong and passionate display between how the academic conditions of students can filter into the predicaments they face as human beings.  Education is not in opposition to students' world, but rather enhances it and through writing, reflection, and embracing social solidarity, the children's lives are changed.  They envision higher education as a reality and end up going to college, becoming "catalysts for change."  In this vein, education becomes the tool by which social change is possible.  The ability to envision the world as it should be as opposed to how it is becomes the critical element in the characters' lives, and only possible through education.

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