Hooked on writing

Eighth graders asked to write about their lives get hooked on writing, says a Philadelphia Inquirer story on a program called “freedom writers.”

Here’s a 15-year-old named David:

“I’m from Philly, the city people call Brotherly Love, where brothers have enough hate in them to pick up a 7 millimeter and murder their own blood. And as for love – it doesn’t exist.”

“… I’m from where you can’t walk to the street, let alone from the house to the car, knowing it could be the last breath you take… .

“I’m from where the style of losing virginity at the age of 13 is in, and where the boy’s too stupid to wear a condom… . So there goes a child raising another child. I’m from the night where the bedtime stories are the bullets and the good sounds are the sirens.”

A movie is in the works about “Erin Gruwell, the Long Beach, Calif. teacher who pioneered the idea and watched many of her struggling high school students blossom into college-bound youngsters, eager to write and succeed.”

The technique is straightforward: Get kids to write by writing about their own lives.

Over four years in the 1990s, Gruwell, then in her 20s, had her students write on such things as alcoholism, gang initiation, racism, homelessness and abuse. They also read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, to give their experiences context.

Gruwell put together a book of student essays, The Freedom Writers Diary.

Telling students to write about their lives doesn’t seem all that novel. Is it the teaching strategy that makes a difference or the talent of teachers who try it?

Still it was heartening to hear David say that “me not writing is just not me no more.”

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Joanne Jacobs says:

    Posted for TypeKey victim WahooFive:

    This is a new idea? It seems like every paper my kids get assigned could be titled “All About Me.” By the time they get to junior high the challenge is to get them to write about anything objectively. Even there, teachers want the students to write about how what they read makes them feel: “Lord of the Flies made me feel bad because they really hurt that kid and he dint do nothing wrong.” If this program works, it’s because of some factor other than autobiography.

    wahoofive

  2. Well, good writers often start writing about what they know. The problem is that these kids don’t know much besides their own lives and immediae surroundings. They don’t travel, they don’t read, they don’t go to museums or concerts. My only concern is that they get accustomed to telling their stories and only their stories because well-meaning teachers get all caught up in the drama.

  3. Indigo Warrior says:

    Joanne Jacobs:
    By the time they get to junior high the challenge is to get them to write about anything objectively.

    If the teachers are able to teach, and grade, objectively, that should be no problem.

  4. Indigo Warrior says:

    KateC:
    The problem is that these kids don’t know much besides their own lives and immediate surroundings. They don’t travel, they don’t read, they don’t go to museums or concerts.

    That was actually an age-old problem. Do you think turn-of-the-century farm kids were any different?

  5. Besing practically a turn-of-the-century farm kid myself, I’d say , yes, those lives were richer. They had more varied experiences than kids in the inner cities because they had more work, greater responsibilities, and most importantly, many of them knew how circumscribed their lives were. I’ve had interns from the barrio in LA who’ve never seen the ocean, even though it’s straight down the freeway. And they don’t think they’re missing anything.