Freedom Writers: Teacher Believes in Students' Futures

Topics: Freedom Writers

Freedom Writers is a movie about how an optimistic inner-city teacher transformed the lives of her ‘unteachable’ at-risk students by believing in them and teaching them how to respect each other. Freedom Writers is based on a true story about how new teacher, Erin Gruwell has been hired to teach English at the newly integrated Woodrow Wilson High School, a few years after the Los Angeles race riots had happened and how she defeated all odds and changed the lives of all 150 of her students.

How Erin Dealt with Her Students’ Difficulties

In 1994, Erin Gruwell waited in her classroom for her students to show up, minutes after the bell had rang. Thinking that maybe she was in the wrong classroom, in walked all of her students, escorted by a security guard. Immediately, the students turned their desks and started talking amongst one another. In the beginning, Erin struggles to connect with her students, even witnessing a few fights between rival gang members.

One day a derogatory picture of one of the African American students was passed around class, getting Erin’s attention. Once she saw the picture, a drawing of Jamal, a fellow African American student with large lips, she compared the drawing to Nazi propaganda against the Jews during the Holocaust. After realizing that only one student knew what the Holocaust was, she decided that this would be the way to connect with her students.

Without any resources from the school, Erin taught her students through books, field trips and guest speakers.

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Books were chosen so the students could relate the characters with their own lives and eventually Erin had the students keep a journal to write about their life or anything they wanted to share. After a while, the students began to trust and show respect not only Erin but to each other as well.

While this is happening, a student, Eva Benitez, witnesses her boyfriend accidently shoot and kill Eva’s classmate, Sindy’s boyfriend, instead of another student he had fought earlier in the day. This in turn creates conflict within Eva, who on one side knows she needs to tell the truth and on the other hand, knows she has to protect her own to remain alive.

Another one of Erin’s students, Marcus, has trouble trusting authority figures. Marcus is portrayed as a stereotypical angry black man who at a young age had to learn to be independent while living on the streets alone. When Marcus was a kid his best friend accidently shot and killed himself with a gun, they obtained in order to protect themselves from being jumped. When the police arrived, they arrested and blamed Marcus for the crime, based only on his looks and stereotypes associated with black men and guns, and threw him in a juvenile facility where he remained throughout most of his childhood. As a result, this makes him hate and distrust any type of authoritative figures and grow to be continuously angry with his life. When this anger causes him to join a local gang, he is kicked out of the house by his mother. Marcus’ change is interesting because at the beginning of the film, Marcus, in his distrusting state, tells Erin that if he makes it to age 18, he would be lucky, due to the ongoing gang wars and protecting their own. When Erin has the students read Anne Frank’s diary in Sophomore year, there was a change in Marcus. He went from living everyday as it comes, to wanting to see age 18 and graduating to looking forward to the future. Reading about and meeting Miep Gies also proved to be a factor that changed Marcus’ life. He sees Miep Gies to be his first hero because by hiding a Jewish family during those times, she did something that was the right thing to do even though the consequences were huge. This gave Marcus a reason to make a change in his own life and this is seen in the movie when he apologizes to his mom and asks her to move back in, only after leaving the gang life.

Education Methods and Freedom Writers Project

As the years progress, Erin still receives little to no help, support or resources from Woodrow Wilson High School. By this time, she has taken on up to three jobs in order to provide financial backing for new books and supplies the school wouldn’t provide because of how the students treat them. The justice system is portrayed in a negative light throughout the whole film. In the beginning, we see police officers arresting innocent people and hear stories from the students about their experiences with law enforcement, which were mostly all negative. The administration of the school proved to be no help as well. Since integration, the school’s education rates have declined and the at-risk students were the ones the facility blamed. Throughout the entire movie the school system continued not to support Erin’s teaching style or fund any of her field trips or speakers.

Erin, refusing to give up on her student’s potential, remains fearless by the hostility and jealousy of her colleagues, who see her style of teaching as incorrect and different. She takes on several jobs just to be able to provide materials for her students. One of the main things that changed her student’s lives is when gave all of her student’s journals to write in about their lives. In turn, she learned about how difficult these juveniles’ lives are at home and why they participate in the activities and behave the way they do. Throughout the movie, Erin or Mrs. G the students like to call her, fights to remain with her students so she can continue to be the positive role model many of them needed. After all 150 of her students graduated, she stuck to one last promise and got everyone’s diary published as a book, as a commitment to the Freedom Writers cause, which helps other teachers be role models to at-risk students by using the same methods she did.


The Freedom Writers was an inspirational movie for many reasons. Erin Gruwell inspired a group of delinquent juveniles and taught them that there is a life other than gangs, violence and death. Being devoted to help mold these forgotten juveniles, Erin shows her students how to appreciate and even look forward to getting a proper education. Another reason the film was inspirational is because it takes several real concepts such as acceptance, dealing with racial conflicts, bravery, trust and what respect means.

In my opinion, Erin Gruwell is an example of what a hero looks like. She was not afraid to go against the grain to do something that she believes will change the lives of a group of people who society had given up on. She stated this at the beginning of the film when she was speaking to Margaret about why she applied and would like to teach at Woodward Wilson High School. I agree with Erin’s views, that if effort is put into the education of all students then they will not revert back to a life of crime years later. As for recommendations, I believe change needs to start within the school system. I think if the school would have supported Erin’s teaching methods and embraced or tried to understand the troubled students as they did the ‘normal’ students they could have reached out to more students to change their lives as well on all levels. Instead they rejected everything that Erin suggests without compromising, even after they saw a real change in the students she was teaching. Without the determination and resilience of Erin Gruwell it is likely none of her student’s achievements would have been possible.


DeVito, D., Shamberg, M., Sher, S., LaGravenese, R., Isham, M., RZA (Rapper)., Swank, H., Dempsey, P., Glenn, S., Staunton, I., Hernandez, A. L., Mario., Herrera, K., Ngan, J., Montalvo, S., Wyatt, D., Smith, V., Chavarria, G., Parrish, H., & Gruwell, E. (2007). Freedom Writers. Hollywood, Calif.: Paramount Home Entertainment.

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Freedom Writers: Teacher Believes in Students' Futures. (2022, Jan 23). Retrieved from

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