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The Freedom Writers Diary

by Erin Gruwell

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In The Freedom Writers Diary, why does Erin refer to the Nazis as the most famous gang in history?

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She refers to them as a gang to demonstrate to her students, almost all of whom are gang members or most likely future gang members, that gangs abuse power and that they do not improve a community.  She knows that by introducing them in such a way, her students will be interested, and then as she starts to tell them of the atrocities that the Nazi "gang" committed against Anne Frank and her family, she hopes that her students will start to consider what their involvement in a gang might do to the innocent.

Similarly, after she builds up the Nazis as one of the most powerful gangs in history, she can demonstrate through Miep Gies (the woman who helped hide Anne and her family) that even someone who appears to be weak and insignificant can stand up against a huge gang.

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Perhaps she was making the reference because in many ways the Nazis acted more like a gang than they did like a political party.  If you look at the very forceful way in which they took power, their appeals to a very specific world-view, and the way they used power once they gained it, you could argue that they act a lot more like a neighborhood gang on steroids than a political party or political movement.

The other reason I think she was referring to them that way is it, in a way, belittles the Nazi Party, and is sort of a funny way of referring to them.

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In The Freedom Writers, why do you think Erin refers to the Nazis as the most famous gang in history?

In linking the Nazis to a "gang," Erin reaches her students in both a thematic and culturally relevant manner.  Consider how she is able to bring the subject up to her students:

One day, Gruwell intercepted a note being passed between students; the paper revealed a racist caricature full of hate. Gruwell told her class that it was this sort of hate and misunderstanding that led to the Holocaust. Gruwell was shocked to learn that her students had never heard of the Holocaust.

In being able to link the Nazis to a gang, Gruwell is able to forge the link between content and student life.  Her students understood the realities and corresponding fears of gang life.  Gruwell was able to link this knowledge to content, in articulating that the same socially destructive behaviors in gang life could be found in the practices and beliefs of the Nazis.  It serves as a rallying cry for teacher to students because Gruwell was able to argue that the antisocial and destructive behavior of gang life could be in the same realm as the Nazis with regards to the Holocaust.  In doing so, she is able to empower her students through expansion of moral imagination to envision their own world as it should be as opposed to what is via curriculum and content.

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