What does the teacher hope the kids will learn from Romeo and Juliet (as seen in Erin Gruwell's The Freedom Writers Diary)?

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Erin Gruwell's The Freedom Writers Diary contains numerous journal and diary entries which detailed the figurative and literal journey Gruwell and her students set out upon. For one of the reading assignments, Gruwell's students read William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Given that students assigned to Gruwell were identified as "unteachable" and "at risk," she hoped to prove administration wrong.

Since Gruwell's students were not strangers to gun violence, gang activity, and racial prejudice, she felt that Romeo and Juliet would be a great way to allow the students to make connections to a great literary piece of the past. Since the play contains gun violence (actually sword fights), gang activity (the Capulets against the Montagues), and racial prejudice (again, family prejudice against family prejudice), Gruwell believed that the students would be able to readily relate to the text.

Some students identified the concept of the feud and its existence far past its initiation. Some students came to question why the feud continued to exist. They could relate this to their own lives in questioning gang activity. For example, why did one gang hate the other? What was the initial cause of the feud? If members could not remember, why did the feud continue?

Based upon the idea that students learn better when they are interested in the material at hand, Gruwell choose the play because of the elements which mirrored the lives of her own students. Essentially, she wanted them to question their own environments and what was happening around them.

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