Freedom Writers


Freedom writers teacher, Ms. G.  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.

 

 

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Freedomwriters

 

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How We Learn From Each Other


 

Yesterday, I  told you all the story of Ms. G. a teacher in the Freshman and Sophomore classes at Long Beach California. She was one of those people who came along and wanted to make a difference. She was officially an English teacher. She worried if they would like her or if she would seem too preppy to the kids. Last night I began wondering if there was a book the movie was based upon. Well, there is. Please be patient as there is a point to all of this.

 

She decided they were going to read the Diary of Anne Frank. After an incident in class, she asked who knew what the Holocaust was. Not one hand raised, not one child knew. That was when she made her decision that they would read Anne Frank. As she began to read to them, they heard familiar words, war, shooting, dying. This is when she made the suggestion that they keep a journal. She bought, out of her own money, one for each student. They could share what they wrote with her, or not. No one else would see or read them. At the end of every day she locked the cupboard that they kept the journals in. They decided, after finishing reading Anne Frank that they wanted to meet the woman, Miep Gies, who hid Anne Frank and her family during the Holocaust.

 

So their teacher Ms. G helped them do fund raisers until they had earned enough money to bring Miep Gies to California. She was a very old lady. She told them all about the Nazi’s and the horrors she had seen. She told them of the night the Gestapo came and took the hidden Jews away. How a gun was held to her head. Hiding Jews meant you were to be shot. A high price for being a compassionate, caring human being. For this reason, she was very surprised when the Gestapo left and she was still alive.

 

The kids told Miep Gies she was their hero but this gentle, kind woman looked at this classroom of Asian, African-American and Latino kids and told them they were the heroes. Thier teacher Ms. G. had told her about their journals and some of their stories. Miep Gies didn’t see a class of mixed colored kids, she saw them as brave because they knew so much of what Anne Frank had suffered and yet they went to school everyday, they learned to open their hearts to Ms. G. and the other kids. They even were beginning to trust each other. So damaged kids from every race, color and creed were beginning to understand each other and accept each other. They chose to break the cycle and make their positive experiences  a lesson for generations to come.

 

Now, the story becomes amazing. In the 1990’s, there was another little girl, named Zlata and she wrote a story. Now I own the diary and have read it. Zlata was in Kosovo and there was a war going on. Our students in Long Beach California read about a girl who wrote out her heart to survive the two years she was in the war. Her diary, quite like Anne Frank’s diary was full of the horrors of war. What human beings are capable to doing to each other. Zlata wrote to save her sanity and cope with the terrible war conditions. She feels there is a parallel between herself and the Freedom Writers because they had all been subjected to being felt that they were victims. They all understood that life brings good things and bad things. Zlata feels that it is easy to  become a victim of your circumstances and to continue to feel sad or angry. She continued to say that someone could continue  to stay angry and scared or that people could  choose to deal with injustice humanely and break the chains of negative thoughts and energies. She told the Freedom Writers that writing helps you look objectively at what is happening around us.

 

Zlata left the former Yugoslavia knowing what a bomb sounds like,what it’s like to hide from bombs in a cellar and what the absence of water feels like. She wants American kids to rise above what they have had to live through and not let the hate, violence and sadness become the focus of their lives, so they can make rich lives for themselves.

 

The Freedom Writers kept Ms. G. for their Junior and Senior years. Then they all went on to college. What they overcame and accomplished is very important and must be respected. They escaped the damage of the anger and hate that surrounded them in their neighborhoods. The seeds of hatred and fear that was beginning to grow. They stopped history from repeating itself.  Ms. G. is still teaching on the college level toda;, though divorced she has had many children and these children will never forget her. They would have remained “underachievers” if she hadn’t walked into their classroom on her first day of teaching. I encourage you all to remember this true story and the two girls who inspired a classroom of American kids to save their lives and make the world a better place for everyone to live.

 

 

A book tree, wouldn't it be wonderful!

A book tree, Wouldn’t it be wonderful!