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September 06, 2022

Freedom Writers Diary / Book & Movie Chat

 

Freedom Writers Diary

Freedom Writers Diary
Image by Chrys Fey
Taken on a hospital room’s guest chair.

Zlata Filipovic:

One big difference between the book and the movie is that in the book, in real life, it wasn’t Miep Gies (who hid Anne Frank and her family) who the students wrote letters to and desperately wanted to fly to America and meet. It was Zlata Filipovic, author of Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo.


Zlata’s Diary
Image by Chrys Fey

They did meet Miep, but it was during a trip she was already taking to California. I believe they chose to make Anne Frank’s story more prominent in the movie and to replace Zlata with Miep because Anne Frank’s story is more well known, but they totally missed the opportunity to share Zlata’s story with more people. It was Zlata’s book that the students wrote about the most in their diary entries after they read it, and Zlata, herself, who they became friends with. If the movie had stuck with reality, more people would’ve learned about Sarajevo and a war that happened more recently.


The Freedom Writers see this book as the third leg of a relay race. Anne's story inspired Zlata, who has been hailed as the modern- day Anne Frank. Zlata then reciprocated by passing the baton to the Freedom Writers. We hope this book will inspire you to be the fourth leg of the race by encouraging you to pick up a pen and be a catalyst for change.

Teenagers Are Smart:

This book demonstrates just how intelligent teenagers are.

Teens are often looked down on as not knowing anything that happens in the world, not knowing about struggles and hardships, and being ignorant about…well, everything. But teens see. Teens know. Teens understand. Teens feel. And teenagers want to create change. Then and now. The diary entries reflect how deeply these students think and feel and dream. They have insight many adults wouldn’t believe they could possibly possess. (Which is true of many teenagers.)


Representation Matters:

In this book, students of every race and ethnicity are represented.

They share their life stories that include gang violence, domestic violence, molestation, death and murder, drug and alcohol use, and…more importantly their growth and the impact that Ms. G and reading and writing had on their lives. One student has dyslexia. Some students left countries before violence and wars could breakout. One has ADD, another is a lesbian. Ms. G’s class was full of representation on all spectrums…a realistic representation of America and the world.


No matter what race we are, what ethnic background, sexual orientation, or what views we may have, we are all human. Untor- tunately, not all humans see it that way.


Good And Bad Teachers:

This book also demonstrates the power of a teacher to build up a student or to tear a student down.

 Before Ms. G, her students had teachers who didn’t believe in them and made it plainly known, even voicing it to their faces. Not to mention how other teachers targeted Ms. G in order to stop her from doing the extraordinary things she was doing for those kids, because the other teachers didn’t believe her students deserved good books, a good education, a compassionate teacher, or a chance. They certainly didn’t believe her students had a future. They were racists AND prejudice. Sadly, there have always been teachers like this, who make kids feel worthless. These teachers make it difficult for the ones who truly care to shine. The mean/negative teachers forever scar students who are marginalized or deemed troubled or who simply don’t test well. The students’ experiences with nasty teachers shines a light on the educational system and how flawed it is, especially in underrepresented neighborhoods.

There is so much more in this book than the movie. The movie is a sliver of the book, so if you like the movie I highly recommend that you read this book and immerse yourself in these students’ lives, grief, hardships, and triumphs.


Addressing Goodreads Reviews:

I do want to address a couple of things that so many people discussed in their Goodreads reviews.


Edited Entries:

Many were upset that the entries had been edited and wondered how that went about (FYI: the students edited them their junior year after they’d grown as writers) and expressed their views that the entries didn’t feel authentic because they were edited and read as though they all had the same voice.

None of that bothered me. Right in the beginning of the book it says the students edited the entries themselves and within the diary entries it explains how they passed the typed copies to other students to edit, so I took that to mean that working on their entries and the entire process of getting the book ready for publication was treated like an assignment on editing, grammar, spelling, writing, etc. to help the students further hone their skills. These students were very proud of what they’d done and wanted to be proud of their published work, so I imagine they poured over their entries to get them as perfect as possible for publication and for people around the world to read. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. All writers do it. Yes, these are diary entries but there’s no rule that forbids writers to edit their diary entries or else they will not be authentic.

At the end of the day, I was surprised to see that I didn't have to substitute a word in my story just because I couldn't spell it. Thanks to spell check, now I feel like there are no limits or boundaries enclosing my ideas and feelings. Sitting in front of the monitor with my fingers on the keyboard makes me feel powerful in a way I never have before.


Teens Can Write!

One reviewer couldn’t believe fifteen to eighteen year olds could write that well, and I’m just like, “Really???” I started writing at the age of twelve. A lot of writers start writing around that age and mature and get better throughout their school years. I suppose if I shared content I wrote when I was twelve, that specific reviewer wouldn’t believe I’d written it at that young of an age.

In fact, I will…

The opening of the first novel I started at twelve (yes, a novel…I wrote three by the time I was eighteenth) was this: 

Deep in the black and purple night of the Unknown World came a voice. The voice spoke to all the humans in the Real World. It echoed in their dull, unmoving dreams, although no one would remember a single word, let alone a vowel spoken by this mysterious voice once it passed. Every night, the voice would say, “I live in a world you don’t see, you don’t know, and you don’t want to know...”

And that is unedited.


Similar Voices:

Only near the end of the book did I think the entries started to sound like their voices were similar, but, again, that didn’t anger me one bit. 

Also, the reason for the stories sounding similar, as well as numbering the entries, was to protect the students’ anonymity and save them from retribution.

Writers know that if you’re writing about a real person to change not only how the character looks but how they talk and act so that other people who know that person won’t be able to pick up on specific traits and know who you’re talking about. This is done in order to prevent possible legal repercussions. The students no doubt did the same to their entries to protect their identities. After all, they shared really tough and traumatic stories. Whatever they had to do to feel comfortable sharing their story and protect their identity was one thousand percent in their right to do. Again, this does not make their entries unauthentic. Their experiences and stories are real and true, and they were safe sharing them with the world to read, and later review on sites like Goodreads that didn’t exist back in 1999 when this book was first published.

The fact that the entries are numbered instead of using their names is also addressed in the beginning of the book.

To me, how the entries sound similar created a smoother reading experience because the entries flowed nicely as a whole (which is the point when you’re publishing a compilation of 145 diary entries from multiple people). However, entries were not without their own distinct style or word choice. And they were not emotionless, either. I got teary-eyed several times.


Ms. G:

Other reviewers wanted to know more about Ms. G’s tactics to get these students to trust her, as well as her resources. They don’t believe enough was shared in this book on that. Well, we get an entry by Ms. G at the beginning of each grade, which is how the book is formatted, but remember...this book isn’t really about her, but rather the students. That’s why we don’t read much about what things were like for her or how she accomplished what she did.

But if you want those answers so badly, you can read the two books she wrote and published that tackle those subjects: Teach with Your Heart: Lessons I Learned from the Freedom Writers by Erin Gruwell and Teaching Hope: Stories from the Freedom Writer Teachers and Erin Gruwell.


Good Causes to Support:

The Freedom Writers Foundation - From their website: “The Freedom Writers Foundation has impacted over 1,000,000 students with its Freedom Writers Methodology.”

“Your donation contributes to our Teacher Training Program, Outreach Program, and Scholarship Program. By pledging your support of this cause, you are making a difference in the lives of teachers and students around the world.”



7 comments:

Liz A. said...

I believe that she taught in a district close to me (the one in the town I live in, Long Beach). It's a very diverse city. So, it makes sense that her students are very diverse.

Teenagers are an interesting contradiction. They are so young and don't know so many things. But they have very interesting insights into things you wouldn't think they'd care about.

Deniz Bevan said...

Teens can definitely write! I wasn't necessarily the best writer as a teen, but all that writing then has helped me now!

Natalie Aguirre said...

I so agree that teens can write. Many authors who love to write started as kids and teens. I'm sure a lot would agree with Deniz's comment.

Damyanti Biswas said...

Teens can write, alright! All that angst and confusion makes for a really interesting material. Wonderful Review, BTW :)

M.J. Fifield said...

Oh yes, teens can most definitely write. A lot of my students were so amazingly creative and talented. I loved reading what they came up with (and was definitely never jealous at all...)

I've seen the Freedom Writers movie, but have never had the pleasure of reading the book.

Loni Townsend said...

It's great to see teens writing, and yeah, talent and practice doesn't really have a lower age limit. It's nice to see this out there!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Chrys - this sounds like an interesting read, and even the movie if only as a reference work. I do hope things are easing up - wishing you the best - Hilary