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.”