The Freedom Writers Diary Summary

In The Freedom Writers Diary, a group of underprivileged students maintain daily journals under the direction of their teacher, Erin Gruwell. She introduces them to The Diary of Anne Frank and other nonfiction books that inspire them to study history and discover the meaning of freedom.

  • When young teacher Erin Gruwell draws attention for her unusual and effective teaching methods, the school administration assigns her to a class of "unteachable" students, most of whom are people of color who experience much hardship in their personal lives.

  • Gruwell's students begin keeping journals or diaries about their lives. In these, they talk about their personal experience with gang violence, domestic violence, substance abuse, the legal system, and more.

  • Gruwell introduces her students to The Diary of Anne Frank and other books about those who have survived war and tyranny. The students are so moved that they begin taking up collections to bring survivors to visit their school. This earns them national attention.

Synopsis

The Freedom Writers Diary cover image

Published by Broadway in 1999, The Freedom Writers Diary chronicles the true story of English teacher Erin Gruwell and her first teaching assignment in Long Beach, California, working with students other teachers deemed "unteachable." Gruwell quickly learned that her students had more to worry about than homework; her students went home to gunfire, gangs, drugs, and a host of other difficult situations. The students were convinced that they had nothing to learn from a white woman who had never experienced firsthand the violence, discrimination, and hatred that was part of their everyday lives.

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.

Gruwell introduced her class to Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and to Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo. She also provided every student with a journal in order for them to have a place to discuss their feelings, their fears, and their experiences. For the first time, the students took an interest in academics.

To bring this history to life, the students organized a "Read-a-Thon for Tolerance" to raise money to bring Miep Gies, the woman whose family hid Anne Frank, to their school. They were also visited by Zlata Filipovic. The group went on to receive tremendous recognition from the media and from the government, hoping that others would find inspiration in their story of success. Perhaps the pinnacle of their success was winning the Spirit of Anne Frank Award in 1998. The group traveled to New York to receive their award. In 1999, the group traveled to Europe together where they visited the Anne Frank House and various concentration camps.

It is nothing less than a miracle that all 150 of the Freedom Writers graduated from high school and went on to college. It is likely that none of their achievements would have been possible without Gruwell's fierce determination and perseverance.

In 2007, Paramount Pictures released The Freedom Writers starring Academy Award winner Hilary Swank as Erin Gruwell.