Freedom Writers Teacher and role model (still from the Movie)
A little while ago, I wrote about a teacher in Long Beach, California who was teaching English to kids who had problems of some sort. I had watched the movie and discovered the book. It is available in bookstores and on Kindle and Nook. Ms. G. taught freshman and sophomore English. Well I am now reading the book which is an anthology of the student’s work. The students were told to write in their journals, and the anthology includes various entries from each of their journals.
To encourage participation without the possibility of humiliation, the journals were all anonymous, but the entries were numbered.
The students wrote about what was happening with their families and their lives, and why their English class in Room 203 with Ms. G became Home; for some of them a second Home, but for many, it was the only Home they had.
Some of them wrote about going home from school and opening the mail and finding an eviction notice. Others wrote about the fact that there was no food in their house, and no money to buy food. They wrote about being molested or physical beaten by their mother’s significant other. They wrote about watching their mothers being beaten, and trying to pull the abuser off their mothers while blood is running off their mother’s head.
Some of them wrote that they lived in very bad sections in Long Beach. , some children would stay late at school to finish their work, but because they lived in such dangerous areas it wasn’t safe to be out after dark, particularly for the girls. Ms. G would wait until the children left and even though she did not herself live in Long Beach, she would personally drive each child home to keep them safe.
More than one student wrote about how hard it was to keep their minds positive, to keep hope in their hearts, that they would get good grades, and be able to do everything that they wanted to. They were surrounded by negativity, and that was what made it so hard. Everywhere they looked, there was negativity. This negativity was where the violence and the gang life style, and the intolerance and bigotry that surrounded them came from.
The students learned through Ms. G’s class to respect themselves and to believe in themselves. They wrote of seeing the whole world differently after reading books, biographies like Zlata’s Diary, that showed them that other people have gone through really difficult times and survived, and got stronger, and turned themselves into better people.
The students wrote about how reading opened up the world to them, and they learned about what was possible, not matter where you lived or what kind of background you had, you could be a person who gave backed to the world. You could make your life be how you wanted to be, instead of what the world said it had to be.
One student even wrote how her mother ever gave her curfews or rules to follows, so she got the idea that she should give herself curfews, because she didn’t want people to know that her mother was neglecting her. She felt like she had raised herself, and that it wasn’t easy.
After they had compiled their journals, choosing the pages to submit, Ms. G had the compilation turned into a book. Ms. G then contacted the Secretary of Education, and told him about her students and their projects, past and present, and about the book created from their project. He invited them to come in person to bring him the book. Ms. G and the students earned the money for the trip to Washington, DC, and got to meet the Secretary, who was very impressed with their book. SOme of the students were blown away just walking up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. When they reached the Washington Memorial, they encircled the monument, held hands, sang and said prayers.
Some of the students wrote about that trip, and how they felt so light and full of hope joined together around the Washington Monument.
When they returned to Long Beach, they found out that another student in their school, not a Freedom Writer, had taken a trip to Vegas with friends, and while their brutally raped and murdered a 7 year old girl, while another student watched and did nothing to stop it. The students wrote about the difficulty of balancing the positive energy from the trip with the horrific news that someone they knew had raped and murdered a little girl. It was a difficult time but they made it through together, and when the media came to the school looking for headlines about the murder, they went out against school regulations, and sang and talked to the media not about the horror perpetrated by one student, but about what the 150 or so of them had accomplished instead.
The negativity that surrounded these students is what is causing the distrust, distress and violence in the world today, but this wonderful teacher and her courageous students stand as a shining example of what positive energy, hope and understanding can do to make the world a better place.