FREEDOM WRITERS (2007)
It took nearly a decade for Erin Gruwell's inspirational true story to be made into a film starring Hillary Swank (two time Oscar winner for Million Dollar Baby and Boys Don't Cry) and Patrick Dempsey (McHubby, "NOT a McWife"), with music by Will I. Am of the Blackeyed Peas.
This is one of those feel-good movies that has the power to make you cry your eyes out, but yet to walk away feeling that there is still reason for Hope.
FREEDOM WRITERS is about one "amateur" high school teacher - "Miss G" - who takes it upon herself to actually care about the students she teaches in her Room-206, a wayward group of high school Freshman from the wrong side of the tracks, most of whom had not only witnessed drive-by shootings, but had lost friends to such violence.
IF nothing else, this film's greatest contribution to our collective knowledge, is to show how important "cultural perspective" is to the process of truly understanding and connecting with Others.
At one level there is the obvious layer of Erin-the-teacher understanding that she needed to do more to connect with her students because the school and its mainstream curriculum had zero relevance for her students who lived desperate lives in gang infested neighborhoods - where one can be gunned down in the street for wearing the colors of gang to which you don't belong.
But at another level, there's the more unexpected battle Erin had to face with many of the other teachers at Woodrow Wilson High School who resented the publicity she got, and her non-conformist style of teaching, calling her complete immersion - her working three jobs so she could "reward" a group of underperforming gangsters-and-thugs for writing a personal diary, with field trips and fancy hotel dining - untenable in the "real" world of teaching, where the focus is to move as many students through to graduation as possible.
It's true that if schools were run so personally, like the way Miss Gruwell ran her classroom, there might be less people served with an education in any given year than to have a more pragmatic approach of serving a set, fixed-price menu, for example - to use a restaurant and food analogy. And the fact that there are many who would be well-served by the set, fixed-price menu, doesn't mean that we should let vegetarians or those with particular food allergies go hungry with the excuse that they are a nuisance, and be irritated that these wayward diners are in need of special attention.
Teachers are supposed to be educators, NOT factory workers, so it seems that if a whole class full of students have behavior problems that stem from the fact that their lives and circumstances are so radically different in experience than the other students in the same school, as is the case with the Freedom Writers, it is important to find teachers like Miss Gruwell who will care enough to NOT just-go-through-the-motions-of-teaching, treating her role as a teacher as "just a job", but that the teacher would be willing to go those additional steps to find ways to connect with her students so that they can dare-to-Hope-for-the-Future, only then would those students be able to see the value of an education.
The greatest moment in this story is when Gruwell finds a way to make history, books and knowledge relevant to the lives of her students. It is through the prism of racial discrimination that she does this, calling the Nazi's the "biggest gang in history". Her students read Anne Frank's Dairy, they watch Schindler's List, they visit the Museum of Tolerence in Los Angeles and dine with Holocaust survivors, and they read Twelve Angry Men. And through all these experiences these students gain perspective, maybe even a sense of how ordinary people with a sense of Right-and-Wrong can-and-do perform heroic acts not because they think they are Good people, but because those acts were simply the right thing to do.
AND maybe this is how we protect our Freedoms, by insuring that the majority of people KNOW the real difference between Right and Wrong, and are willing to make the effort to keep on the Right side of the equation.
Erin Gruwell's book, Teach with Your Heart: Lessons I Learned from the Freedom Writers and the Freedom Writers' Journals are worth while reading to complement this film. In all the story of the Freedom Writers gives one a sense of hope that one person can through her efforts and because she cares, find a way to give Hope and a future to people whom many in society would gladly abandon.
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