The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them

The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them

by The Freedom Writers, Erin Gruwell


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#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The twentieth anniversary edition of the classic story of an incredible group of students and the teacher who inspired them, featuring updates on the students’ lives, new journal entries, and an introduction by Erin Gruwell
Now a public television documentary, Freedom Writers: Stories from the Heart
In 1994, an idealistic first-year teacher in Long Beach, California, named Erin Gruwell confronted a room of “unteachable, at-risk” students. She had intercepted a note with an ugly racial caricature and angrily declared that this was precisely the sort of thing that led to the Holocaust. She was met by uncomprehending looks—none of her students had heard of one of the defining moments of the twentieth century. So she rebooted her entire curriculum, using treasured books such as Anne Frank’s diary as her guide to combat intolerance and misunderstanding. Her students began recording their thoughts and feelings in their own diaries, eventually dubbing themselves the “Freedom Writers.”
Consisting of powerful entries from the students’ diaries and narrative text by Erin Gruwell, The Freedom Writers Diary is an unforgettable story of how hard work, courage, and determination changed the lives of a teacher and her students. In the two decades since its original publication, the book has sold more than one million copies and inspired a major motion picture Freedom Writers. And now, with this twentieth-anniversary edition, readers are brought up to date on the lives of the Freedom Writers, as they blend indispensable takes on social issues with uplifting stories of attending college—and watch their own children follow in their footsteps. The Freedom Writers Diary remains a vital read for anyone who believes in second chances.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385494229
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 10/12/1999
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 30,999
Product dimensions: 5.49(w) x 8.28(h) x 0.82(d)

About the Author

Erin Gruwell and the Freedom Writers continue to share their stories with students and teachers from around the globe through their nonprofit, the Freedom Writers Foundation. They are the subject of the 2019 public television documentary Freedom Writers: Stories from the Heart, and the 2007 feature film Freedom Writers, starring Hilary Swank. Gruwell lives in Long Beach.

Read an Excerpt

Freshman Year

Fall 1994

Entry 1 — Ms. Gruwell

Dear Diary, Tomorrow morning, my journey as an English teacher officially begins. Since first impressions are so important, I wonder what my students will think about me. Will they think I'm out of touch or too preppy? Or worse yet, that I'm too young to be taken seriously? Maybe I'll have them write a journal entry describing what their expectations are of me and the class.

Even though I spent last year as a student teacher at Wilson High School, I'm still learning my way around the city. Long Beach is so different than the gated community I grew up in. Thanks to MTV dubbing Long Beach as the "gangsta-rap capital" with its depiction of guns and graffiti, my friends have a warped perception of the city, or L B C as the rappers refer to it. They think I should wear a bulletproof vest rather than pearls. Where I live in Newport Beach is a utopia compared to some of neighborhoods seen in a Snoop Doggy Dogg video. Still, TV tends to blow things out of proportion.

The school is actually located in a safe neighborhood, just a few miles from the ocean. Its location and reputation make it desirable. So much so that a lot of the students that live in what they call the "'hood" take two or three buses just to get to school every day. Students come in from every corner of the city: Rich kids from the shore sit next to poor kids from the projects . . . there's every race, religion, and culture within the confines of the quad. But since the Rodney King riots, racial tension has spilled over into the school.

Due to busing and an outbreak in gang activity, Wilson's traditional white, upper-class demographics have changed radically. African Americans, Latinos, and Asians now make up the majority of the student body.

As a student teacher last year, I was pretty naive. I wanted to see past color and culture, but I was immediately confronted by it when the first bell rang and a student named Sharaud sauntered in bouncing a basketball. He was a junior, a disciplinary transfer from Wilson's crosstown rival, and his reputation preceded him. Word was that he had threatened his previous English teacher with a gun (which I later found out was only a plastic water gun, but it had all the makings of a dramatic showdown). In those first few minutes, he made it brutally clear that he hated Wilson, he hated English, and he hated me. His sole purpose was to make his "preppy" student teacher cry. Little did he know that within a month, he'd be the one crying.

Sharaud became the butt of a bad joke. A classmate got tired of Sharaud's antics and drew a racial caricature of him with huge, exaggerated lips. As the drawing made its way around the class, the other students laughed hysterically. When Sharaud saw it, he looked as if he was going to cry. For the first time, his tough facade began to crack.

When I got a hold of the picture, I went ballistic. "This is the type of propaganda that the Nazis used during the Holocaust," I yelled. When a student timidly asked me, "What's the Holocaust?" I was shocked.

I asked, "How many of you have heard of the Holocaust?" Not a single person raised his hand. Then I asked, "How many of you have been shot at?" Nearly every hand went up.

I immediately decided to throw out my meticulously planned lessons and make tolerance the core of my curriculum.

From that moment on, I would try to bring history to life by using new books, inviting guest speakers, and going on field trips. Since I was just a student teacher, I had no budget for my schemes. So, I moonlighted as a concierge at the Marriott Hotel and sold lingerie at Nordstrom. My dad even asked me, "Why can't you just be a normal teacher?"

Actually, normalcy didn't seem so bad after my first snafu. I took my students to see Schindler's List in Newport Beach, at a predominately white, upper-class theater. I was shocked to see women grab their pearls and clutch their purses in fear. A local paper ran a front-page article about the incident, describing how poorly my students were treated, after which I received death threats. One of my disgruntled neighbors had the audacity to say, "If you love black people so much, why don't you just marry a monkey?"

All this drama and I didn't even have my teaching credentials yet. Luckily, some of my professors from University of California-Irvine read the article and invited my class to a seminar by the author of Schindler's List, Thomas Keneally. Keneally was so impressed by my students that a few days later we got an invitation to meet Steven Spielberg at Universal Studios. I couldn't believe it! The famous director wanted to meet the class that I had dubbed "as colorful as a box of Crayola crayons" and their "rookie teacher who was causing waves." He marveled at how far these "unteachable" students had come as a junior class and what a close group they had become. He even asked Sharaud what "we" were planning to do next year as an encore. After all, if a film does well, you make a sequel—if a class surpasses everyone's expectations, you . . .

. . . dismantle it! Yep, that's exactly what happened. Upon my return from Universal, the head of the English department told me, "You're making us look bad." Talk about bursting my bubble! How was I making them look bad? After all, these were the same kids that "wouldn't last a month" or "were too stupid" to read advanced placement books.

She went on to say, "Things are based on seniority around here." So, in other words, I was lucky to have a job, and keeping Sharaud and his posse another year would be pushing the envelope. Instead, I'd be teaching freshmen—"at risk" freshmen. Hmm . . . not exactly the assignment I was hoping for.

So, starting tomorrow, it's back to the drawing board. But I'm convinced that if Sharaud could change, then anyone can. So basically, I should prepare myself for a roomful of Sharauds. If it took a month to win Sharaud over . . . I wonder how long it's gonna take a bunch of feisty fourteen-year-olds to come around?

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Freedom Writers Diary 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 271 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is amazing. It makes anyone who reads this feel as if they are guilty because of what the charcters faced in this book. Its very sad story but its worth the money.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was based on a true story an how a teacher inspire 150 students to overcome troubled teens to succeed in their life. I think that this book was great. Which I think any high schools students can relate to this book because it's life-changing,uplifting, an eye-opening, spirit-rising method against intolerance and misunderstood challenges.Also I would recommend this book to anyone who had a tough time growing up to become a successful adult.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
People think all these kids are trouble But they're not they have a hard life and nobody understands This movie/book lets every body know what they went through READ IT!!!!!!!!!!!!,
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have watched the movie plenty of times, so i want to read the book finally.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This movie was so touching. I thought i would hate it, but i was VERY wrong. I didnt leave my seat the entire time. I heard about the book, and plan on reading it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The movie was great should I read the book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have seen the movie and now read the book and both have been really good. It is sad what the children go through but this book helps you see the truth behind these children.
AlainaBrown More than 1 year ago
I'd recommend this book to everyone! It's so emotional and raw. It gives you great insight to 140+ Freedom Writers as well as famous people in history. Their journey is truly heart wrenching and worth the time. I learned a lot from this book; too much to put into words.
Annaynana on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very good book on violence and despair in the ghettos of United States. The slices of life of teenagers living in fear for their life if they do not take up arms.Violence was the only thing they knew and they thought school would not teach them anything of use to survive...They learned that there are people like them, there are people who were worse off than them but those people managed to get out of the vicious circle of hatred.Bloodshed only brings bloodshed and as such if an opportunity arises, do not immediately reject it but reach out to the person whose hand will help you stand up on your own feet and achieve something of your life...Truly a beautiful book and a heart-wrenching stories...
TheNovelWorld on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Freedom Writer¿s Diary chronicles the four years of Erin Gruwell¿s teaching experiences at Wilson High School in Long Beach, CA in the mid 1990s. As a first year teacher, Erin was given the hard to teach, the ¿at-risk¿ and ¿most likely to drop out kids¿. Through a series of unorthodox methods, such as field trips to Holocaust museums and dinners at fancy restaurants, to inspire and reach out to these teens, Erin had them keep journals. They could communicate in any way they wanted with these journals. Some wrote poetry, some drew pictures, other¿s wrote incredibly details entries about their lives. Gruwell took on two extra jobs in order to pay for school supplies and field trips that her school administrators would not fund. She faced opposition by her colleagues who did not value her enthusiasm and teaching efforts.The diary entries are anonymous, but vividly detail the lives of teens from abusive households, living in fear and shame from their parents, their neighbors, and friends. We see these teens deal with sexual, physical and mental abuse. Each day is a struggle to keep going, and put up a strong effort to stay motivated. It is through these journals and through room 203, that many students find unexpected friendship and family, which never fails to provide support and care. We see these teens grow and change in the course of these four years due to works of writing such as Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, Zlata¿s Diary: A Child¿s Life in Wartime Sarajevo, and Durango Street. Erin Gruwell went out of her way to learn about her students, and works of writing that these kids could relate to. Most of all, as cliche as it sounds, Erin Gruwell showed these kids that hope exists and so does their future as long as they strive for the best. We see these kids go from cutting class, to graduation day and going on to major universities. We see the change that Ms. G and the Freedom Writer¿s had on the world around them, bringing Zlata and Miep Gies to their school through fundraisers events and emotionally driven, but still well written letters.
mrsarey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a stunning book, written over the course of four years by high school students dealing with all kinds of horrors, but ready to change themselves and the world through reading books by Anne Frank and Zlata Filipovic.
4oops on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was recommended to me by Donna in Lubbock, Texas. Erin's tenacity and energy were great to read. The stories of the students were difficult to read. Having grown up just a few miles from Long Beach, this story really hit home.
sooziebeaker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An inspirational story about how writing helped "at risk" students turn their lives around. This isn't for the faint of heart however, since the daily horror the students faced are frankly discussed in their diary enteries that make up the majority of the book.
Kek146 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Freedom Writers. I found the book super inspiring, and very much like the kind of teach that Ms. G did. She was extremely creative, and chose to do things her own way. I was truly inspired to teach in a unquie way. I would recommend this book to be read.
phoebenye on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Freedom Writers Diary is a very inspirational book about a young teacher named Ms. Gruwell. She is young and full of hope for her underprivileged students. By reading all of the diary entries from her students the reader notes how much the students love their teacher and how much they go through on a daily basis. I would definitely recommend this book to any future teacher. The spirit and mentality that Ms. Gruwell has, is one that every teacher in the world should have.
KrystalAdcock on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Freedom Writers Diary is a non-fiction novel about a group of students 'The Freedom Writers'. The story focuses on a teacher, Erin Gruwell, who uses journal writing to help her class think about and analyze the problems in their lives. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the positive effects of writing thoughts and feelings down in a journal. This book is perfect to use in a classroom setting, to help learners develop writing skills, and critical thinking skills. I look forward to using this book in my classroom.
KerriL89 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Freedom Writers is an excellent collection of journal entries from teenage students that tells their story of how their English teacher, Mrs. Gruwell, helped them overcome adversity to become successful students and lead them on the path to becoming thriving, contributing citizens. I thought this was a wonderful nonfiction book, and I really enjoyed reading it. It was extremely inspiring to read about how Mrs. Gruwell dedicated so much of her time, energy, and money to motivate her students to do better both inside and outside of school. I thought it was amazing how she would stay at the school until 11:00 at night helping her students with their homework and projects; I don't know any other teachers who would do that. Mrs. Gruwell helped the students see a side of themselves that they didn't even know existed and dream and accomplish goals that they never even fathomed before. I would recommend this book to all teachers because it is a reminder that the betterment of our students' lives should be the focus of our teaching. I would also recommend it for teachers to use in their classroom with their students.
lrb209 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"The Freedom Writer's Diary" is a non-fiction book written from the point of view of students. Lead by their exceptional teacher, Ms. Gruwell, the students wrote about their personal lives and goals in journals each day. These journal entries were then taken and developed into this wonderful book. Many of these students lived in horrible conditions and fought for their lives every single day. The neighborhoods that these students grew up in were battle grounds, and "war" was around them every time they took a step out of their houses. However, some students faced the war in their own "homes" as well. This amazing teacher helped these students through every hard ship that they experienced, and completely turned their lives around for the better. This is an excellent book that should be used in every school and in every classroom. This book can really motivate students to work hard and do whatever is possible to graduate. The message that students receive while reading this book is to never give up and always follow your dreams. Reach for your highest goal because with hard work and motivation, anything is possible and nothing is unattainable.
adt112 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"The Freedom Writers Diary" was very inspirational to a beginning or struggling teacher. The book starts out as a challenge and the children in the classroom make a huge change in their lives without knowing it. Erin Gruwell had a class of children who were mean or as some people said "unteachable". This book and real life story can be a testimony of how anyone can overcome their past. I think teens of all ages and backgrounds can relate to this book!!!
WhitneeJenkins on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"The Freedom Writers Diary" is a book that tells the story of troubled teens through their eyes. It starts when their teacher challenges them to be better people and students. Little did they know, this would change their lives for the best. I recommend the story to any and everyone that can read. High school students would especially appreciate this story. It can be an inspiration to everyone! If these teens can better their lives, anyone can!
ErinHardt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Freedom Writer's Diary was very inspirational. I loved how Erin Gruwell was able to take something from history to change her student's lives. She is a teacher that all teachers should strive to be. A teacher that cared so much about her students she did everything to show them how special they were, and did everything to help them better their future no matter what was their past.
Jacob_Kent on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"The Freedom Writers Diary" is a wonderfully inspiring compilation of journal entries from the hands of a group of underprivileged students. Erin Gruwell, the students' English teacher asks them to write down their thoughts and experiences into a journal as a way to inspire them to write. The stories show heartache and the terrible backgrounds that these kids have grown up in, while also showing the disrespect that the students at first have for Ms. Gruwell. As the journal entries progress, we begin to see that Ms. Gruwell has truly instilled hope into their lives. These kids now desire to learn and succeed in the harsh situations they live in. I believe that this is a wonderful book to include in an English class, both in high and lower class settings. I think it is inspirational for students and also for teachers. This book shows that a teacher can truly make a drastic difference in the lives and minds of his/her students. Pairing this book with the movie would be a good lesson.
Jonathan_Walker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Freedom Writer's Diary is a non-fiction novel written by a group of students under the tutelage of Erin Gruwell, their English teacher. This novel is written in journal, "dairy," entry format. Each entry is from one of the students in Ms. Gruwell's class and some are even written by Ms. Gruwell herself. This would be a great novel to use with creatvie writing or beginning writers; however, there is a good bit of strong language throughout the novel, but there are many entries one could pick out and discuss with the class that uses appropriate language. I would recommend this book to a high school age students and even beginning teachers because this book really shows some of the hardships that teenagers face in their daily lives.
brandyccross on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Freedom Writers Diary is a non-fiction book that is composed of journal entries from a classroom and the teacher. Ms. Gruwell told her students to write in their journals about their past, present, and future, and this book is the outcome of what they all had to say. In the classroom, Ms. Gruwell had them read books and that helped open up the students eyes while they made connections with their own lives. I enjoyed reading the book and it gives real inspiration as a teacher. Ms. Gruwell had a real passion to get those students to read and express themselves, and that is exactly what she accomplished.
hmr83 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Freedom Writers Diary is a compilation of students' journal entries under the direction of Mrs. Gruwell - a minority teacher faced with a class many claimed to be unteachable. Against the odds, Mrs. Gruwell and her class pushed against racial prejudices to change their own perceptions, as well as the perceptions of others. I would recommend excerpts of this book to upper level middle school and high school classes, especially English or Creative Writing classes, to expose students to journals of real people and the struggles they faced. It is by this same token that I do not endorse reading large portions of this book too quickly, or to a very young audience, because it is real life stuff, and it isn't pretty. From drugs, to alcohol, to rape - this collection of journal entries portrays real issues that teenagers face. It was hard for me to read as an avid reader with no connection to this sort of violence or prejudice. Overall, I think the book is a great asset to any classroom, but teachers should be careful of the population of their classrooms and be sensitive to students' issues that might arise while reading portions of this book.