TEDxConejo | The Freedom Writers
Becoming a Catalyst for Change
This Teacher Taught The Impossible
Filled with anecdotes from teachers across the country, Gruwell’s presentation proves that the methodology she has developed is not location-specific, but can be implemented in all types of schools and communities. In “Nurturing the Leader Within,” Erin explores her personal journey and her students’ transformations from disgruntled high school students to leaders and activists, illustrating that everyone has the power to embrace change and become a leader in their own community.
Erin Gruwell found herself the teacher for a troubled group of students who had been dubbed “unteachable.” The tale of how this first-year teacher encouraged these wayward inner city kids to redirect their lives, forego rampant drugs and the violence that pervaded their neighborhoods is the story recounted in the best-selling The Freedom Writers Diary. From the stark reality of one seemingly innocuous event in the classroom, she sparked a chord in the students that led the class to name themselves the “Freedom Writers.” Over the course of a few months, Gruwell empowered the class to re-chart their future and go on to become college students, published writers and citizens for change.In a powerful presentation that leaves audiences cheering, Gruwell parlays her story into ways the audience can improve their performance and productivity by asking “what can I do to make a difference?” Gruwell speaks to the authenticity and stamina needed to fuel change. An emotional connection with your work and life goals is a powerful force that can produce an unstoppable vision against all odds. Gruwell speaks from her heart, customizing every speech to her audience and shares:
- How even little events can fuel transformational change
- How to develop an environment of trust and communication
- Ways that individuals can become catalysts for change in their own lives
- How to harness your own personal power and determination to accomplish success that others may not think is possible
In a scene from the hit movie Freedom Writers, a film based on Erin Gruwell’s experiences as an English teacher to inner-city Los Angeles youth, a Latino student is drawing a derogatory picture of a fellow black student. Intercepting the racial correspondence, Gruwell is reminded of a caricature she had seen from the Museum of Tolerance—Holocaust propaganda of a Jew made to look like a rat. Drawing parallels between her students’ ignorance and the prejudice of the Nazis, Gruwell captures the attention of her class by pointing out the seriousness of their actions and the implications that can follow.
In a through-provoking presentation, Gruwell explores the very situations that have led us towards conflict in the past and how tolerance and understanding could have prevented such negative outcomes. A true proponent that one person can make an extraordinary difference, Gruwell inspires us all to embrace the concept of changing lives by teaching tolerance.
Erin Gruwell has earned an award-winning reputation for her steadfast commitment to the future of education. Her impact as a change agent attracted Hollywood’s attention, and in 2007, Paramount Pictures released Freedom Writers, starring two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank as Erin. The film is based on The Freedom Writers Diary, the New York Times bestseller that chronicled Erin’s extraordinary journey with her 150 high school students who dubbed themselves the “Freedom Writers” in homage to Civil Rights activists the Freedom Riders.
By fostering an educational philosophy that valued and promoted diversity, she transformed her students’ lives. She encouraged them to re-think rigid beliefs about themselves and others, reconsider their own daily decisions, and ultimately, re-chart their future. With Gruwell’s support, they chose to forego teenage pregnancy, drugs, and violence in order to become aspiring college students, published writers, and citizens for change.
Inspired by Anne Frank, Gruwell and her students captured their collective journey in The Freedom Writers Diary. Through poignant student entries and her narrative text, the book records their “eye-opening, spirit-raising odyssey against intolerance and misunderstanding.” Their inspiring story of success is also chronicled in the documentary, Freedom Writers: Stories from an Undeclared War, which features behind the scenes footage of Gruwell and the Freedom Writers from their freshman year to present day.
PBS will be releasing a documentary about the Freedom Writers, produced by Don Hanh (The Lion King, Maleficent, Beauty and the Beast) in the fall of 2018, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Freedom Writers’ graduation date.
While Gruwell has been credited with giving her students a “second chance,” it was perhaps she who changed the most during her tenure at Wilson High School. She decided to channel her classroom experiences toward a broader cause, and today her impact as a teacher extends well beyond Room 203. Gruwell founded the Freedom Writers Foundation where she currently teaches educators around the world how to implement her innovative lesson plans into their own classrooms.
Gruwell’s teaching methods from her time in Room 203 have been published in her powerful call to arms, Teach With Your Heart as well the Freedom Writers Diary Teacher’s Guide. Gruwell and teachers she’s trained known as Freedom Writer Teachers collaborated to write Teaching Hope, a book in which stories from “the front lines of education take [the reader] from the anticipation of the first day to the disillusionment, challenges, and triumphs of the school year.”
Gruwell and her students have appeared on numerous television shows, including Oprah, Prime Time Live with Connie Chung, Barbara Walters’ The View, and Good Morning America, to name a few. Their story has earned them dozens of awards, including the Spirit of Anne Frank Award. Erin Gruwell and the Freedom Writer Teachers also collaborated with Scholastic to create On the Record, an innovative reading and writing program. On the Record uses the Freedom Writer Methodologies to improve students’ reading and writing skills, as well as their lives.
Erin Gruwell continues to fight for equality in education and inspires teachers and students all over the world with her work.
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