Probably won't finish this for a long while, but it's an interesting look into the life of a courageous woman who lived her faith in God, belief in se...moreProbably won't finish this for a long while, but it's an interesting look into the life of a courageous woman who lived her faith in God, belief in serving humanity, and opposition to the corruption of oppressive political and social systems.(less)
This memoir about a high school English teacher's experiences at a forcefully integrated California school is both touching and disturbing. It reveals...moreThis memoir about a high school English teacher's experiences at a forcefully integrated California school is both touching and disturbing. It reveals the ways in which race and class still split people apart and trap them in poverty and violence. With the other teachers and administrators largely being bigoted and uncaring, and the students being rebellious and mocking, Ms. Gruwell faced much adversity. Male students sexualized her rather than respected her, and both her white colleagues and her racially diverse students thought her idealistic and naive.
Yet, rather than give up, she sought to understand them. She asked about their personal lives, and began learning about rap and sports to be able to compare them to things in literature and history. But when a drawing gets passed around caricaturing a black student, it reminds her of Nazi drawings of Jews, and she berates the class on their making a joke of stereotyping. "This is how a holocaust happens," she shouts at them.
"Holocaust? What's that?"
That's right. None of them had heard about the Holocaust. When she asked how many of them had been shot at, everyone raised their hand. Gruwell learned how some had lost as many as a dozen friends to gang violence. “I’ve seen as many bodies as a mortuary,” Maria quips. Others attested to being brutalized by police, victimized by parents and other adults, ridiculed by teachers, and constantly fighting with rival gangs. Some faced racial prejudice in stark ways—one classmate lost a friend to a white-supremacist gang, who put his body inside a basketball hoop to intimidate other minorities. It turned out that a fellow white student had a brother who was part of that gang, though he rejected his brother’s racism and struggled to form connections with other students.
When she requested books such as The Diary of Anne Frank and Zlata's Diary, she was turned down, told that it was a waste of time, that her students were "too stupid" to understand such works, and would only ruin the copies. Gruwell used her own money to buy them from Barnes & Noble.
The students not only connected to stories of the Holocaust and war-torn Bosnia, they became extremely moved and got to meet Zlata and Holocaust survivors. Publicity began to build around Gruwell's activities, such as taking students to a screening of Schindler's List and the Museum of Tolerance. Unfortunately, this brought more hostility down on her, as angry phone calls came to her home, one caller even saying, "If you like black people so much, why don't you marry a monkey?" And Gruwell finds she has to sacrifice much in her personal life to stay dedicated, such as her husband divorcing her because of all the time she spent apart from him.
While it is clear that Gruwell sacrifices much to help, spending virtually all of her free time staying with students after class to help them with homework, driving them home, or working two additional jobs to afford books and field trips--one can also clearly see the humility and genuineness of her actions. Perhaps defiant and challenging at times, she never hesitates to remark how she shakes in terror at speaking in front of others. Nor does she fail to fret about her appearance or lack of experience in the efforts she dives into. The point she makes rings home a message of hope: though uncertain and limited, powerful things can happen with passion and love.
She does not hesitate to outline the many benefactors that helped her along the way, whether parents who volunteer to run fundraisers, or businessmen who donate thousands of dollars to send her and students overseas to Europe to visit Auschwitz and Bosnia.
There are many surprises and emotional moments that spring up in this astonishing tale, which is more the memoir of a family than of a person.
One of the reasons I like this story so much, aside from it being a tale of hope, is that it shows the power of literature to affect lives in a positive way. Some may dismiss this as a romanticized story of a white person saving the lowly minority, but lives were changed in real ways here. Also, she describes how her students touched her and others as much as she did them.
She got the students to collect their thoughts in what came to be published as the "Freedom Writers Diary," which is a good companion piece to this. These 2 books were used as inspiration for the movie "Freedom Writers," a rather good dramatization of the events and personalities involved.(less)