Thursday, January 28, 2010
The Writing Experiment Part 2
We're just over the half way mark in the school year. We’ve read about 1/3 of “The Freedom Writers Diary – How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them,” by Erin Gruwell and her students at Wilson High School. (You may remember the movie, “Freedom Writers,” based on Gruwell and her experiences as a teacher.) As we have read this book I am more and more impressed with Ms. Gruwell and her students. Their experiences were amazing and have touched me deeply. Many of them have touched my students as well.
There have been highs and lows accompanying our reading and journaling this year. The highs were the class discussions and student journaling about race, discrimination, families, gangs, fitting in, choosing the right, homelessness, and the dangers of drug and alcohol use. I discovered I have several students with fathers in prison, with families who are or have been homeless; twelve year old students who drink and experiment with drugs, and have been or are in gangs. While shy at first, some of them have opened up and were honest about their lives and experiences. We have cried together, laughed together, and had many good discussions about the entries.
The lows were my students either not wanting to or not being able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Lows were also when they wanted to hear the stories, but not write a reflection on them (or do anything else that day), and when they made fun of students’ entries. Some of them have little patience with any of the smart kids who write diary entries in the book. I don’t know if it’s out of jealousy, fear or ignorance, maybe all three.
I wonder if I’m as unable to put myself in their shoes as they are in mine. Maybe my white, upper middle class, LDS upbringing has put blinders on my eyes as well. I fight to change myself and see things from their point of view, but I am frustrated with my students who have chosen drugs, alcohol, or emulating gangsters as a way of life. No matter what warnings or examples the book or I give them about avoiding “a life of drugs and crime,” some of them are still drawn to it. I could pull my hair out when I see the possible future of B---- or K-----, knowing they may end up dropouts or addicted to drugs, wasting their brains and talent.
I struggle to help my students see the world is about more than the apartments they live in or the block they live on. It’s about more than being rich or poor, more than their race or nationality, more than fighting to prove who’s the toughest girl in 7th grade or wearing the “uniform” of a gangster. It’s about learning, teaching, working, looking forward and upward. It’s about being yourself and having hope for more than just surviving. I have hope for them. They have so much talent and possibility.