The most significant theme in The Freedom Writers Diary is tolerance and understanding. Gruwell's students hated one another for no reason other than they thought they were supposed to because of gang histories and stereotypes. Gruwell taught them that they actually had more in common than they wanted to believe. Many of the students had lost a friend or loved one to senseless violence. Many of them had been abused or molested. Many of them were victims of substance abuse. Because the education system had deemed them "at risk," Gruwell's colleagues were unwilling to devote the time, energy, and attention to the students that would foster a positive, safe environment for them to not only tolerate their differences but to accept and even appreciate them. Enter Erin Gruwell, an idealistic young teacher who was not willing to take no for an answer from students, parents, or administrators.

What The Freedom Writers Diary teaches readers is how empowerment can change lives. Once Gruwell convinced her students of their self-worth, they began to see their potential. The students felt empowered to take academic and intellectual risks in the classroom; the first 150 Freedom Writers all graduated from high school and many went on to attend college when most believed that they would not make it through even the ninth grade. Perhaps more important, they felt empowered to befriend those whom they had previously dismissed as "the enemy." Additionally, they were empowered to believe that they could be successful; for many of Gruwell's students, she was the first person in their lives who had believed that they had potential.

The importance of self-worth is yet another significant theme in The Freedom Writers Diary. Because so few of Gruwell's students had ever had someone believe in them, half of her battle was showing the students that they were not only capable but were worthy of receiving a good education. She showed them that they...

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