"Freedom Writers": Life Lessons

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"Freedom Writers" teaches many hard-learned life lessons. It is destined to be a classic.

The new teacher, Erin Gruwell, has chosen to be a teacher over becoming a juvenile lawyer. Gruwell was from a middle class, Caucasian background that valued education. She saw education as a means to a better future. She believed that education was a better path because by the time adolescents reached the court system, the youth was already lost.

Gruwell was discouraged from teaching by the Head of the English Department, the Honors English teacher, her father and eventually her husband. Even the students were disrespectful and gave Gruwell little reason to be encouraged. The fights, murders and gang activity would have disheartened a less courageous or less determined teacher. Against all odds, Gruwell searches for ways to get her students to attend her English class and learn. She wears her string of pearls with pride. Her pearls were a graduation gift from her father and come to represent Gruwell’s rejection of the cynical administration, and rebellion against all that have no hope for her students.

As the movie progresses, the students do begin to learn from Gruwell , but more importantly, Gruwell learns from her students. While maintaining her high ideals of human dignity, she is able to get into their world. She eventually creates a “family bond of trust” in her classroom.

When Gruwell discovers that her students were unaware of the Holocaust. She uses this opportunity to reveal many life lessons to her students.

The “Line Game” is important because it shows the commonalities and the hardships that Gruwell’s students were going through. It shows the statistics of the group. The "Line Game" showed what they had passed through in their short lives. Students saw reasons to empathize with each other because of their shared, common experiences. The "Line Game" gave Gruwell the inspiration to introduce the journal to her students. She used the "Line Game" to make the students aware that their lives were important and that they had already survived significant challenges. The journal becomes a safe place to document their thoughts and feelings—to express their authentic selves.

Gruwell’s father offers empty platitudes about life and success. He advises his daughter to find another job if she does not fit the one she has.

Throughout the film, Gruwell learns that she must be true to herself. She sacrifices her own family life by taking on two part time jobs to earn extra money to buy instructional materials for her students and to pay for a fieldtrip to the Holocaust Museum and buy a luxurious dinner for her class. She also tries to get her students to be true to themselves by providing them with books that reflect their lives, but are not in the curriculum. The students begin to enjoy reading and writing.

The visit to the Holocaust Museum is a “familiar” experience for Gruwells students. The challenge to stay alive was something they were familiar with. They learned the value of respect and how caricatures and hate can destroy the humanity of man. Some of the Holocaust survivors had come to America with very little and made a successful life for themselves and their families. From the Holocaust survivors the students saw that survival was possible. And, the pain caused by the oppressors did not have to make them hate or destroy their own lives.

The gang life, the students learned, was also survivable. The people who had told you what they couldn’t do, or told them “You will never be nothing ” could be silenced. Books could change their lives. Education could change their life. They could create the life they wanted. Life affirming values can be taught. Chaos, suffering and death are not strong foundations for a good life. Gruwell taught her students by example each step of the way with her personal sacrifices, commitment, courage and confidence.

In conclusion, the purpose of the movie Freedom Writers is to teach lessons for living a quality life. Some of the lessons I learned from the movie  include the following:

  • You can make your dreams come true in spite of all challenges that you may have.
  • Be your own authentic self!
  • Nothing can stop you from reaching your goals and making your dreams come true.
  • You are somebody’s “hero” and Greatness does not depend on the size of the person but the spirit within.
  • Doing the right thing takes courage.
  • Gangs have existed throughout history. They thrive on hate, tyranny and blind loyalty. They can be defeated with education and Truth.
  • Family and belonging nourish the human spirit.
  • Each person is a teacher whether they choose to be or not.
  • Each life is important and worth documenting. Writing is a way to preserve your legacy.


Malina Debrie
Posted on Feb 6, 2011
M 5446
Posted on Sep 9, 2010