Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Freedom Writers

Eclectic it may be, but my Blog has never discussed movies until now. I don't watch many films, to be honest. However, I have watched a couple recently. And on Sky last night, I watched Freedom Writers.

I had never heard of the film, but I was absolutely captivated. Not only is it an excellent film, but it is based on the story of a truly amazing teacher, Erin Gruwell.

Miss G, as she is referred to throughout, gets a job as an English teacher at a very socially mixed school in California. The affluent white kids have nice, peaceful classes. They are expected to succeed and they do. The poor black, Cambodian and Latino kids are herded into chaotic classes where no one expects to learn and no one does. The behaviour is shocking. And she turns them around. The catalyst for change was the discovery of a racist caricature which one of the Latino kids had drawn of one of the black kids. Miss G tells them that this was the sort of propaganda which led to the Holocaust.

Upon learning that only one student had actually heard of the Holocaust, Miss G makes radical changes to what they are learning. In comes Anne Frank's Diary; students getting to meet Holocaust survivors and experiencing multi-sensory approaches to learning and teaching. This class of no-hopers see their grades improve massively and they come to love the teacher who had turned their lives around.

The political differences between the UK and US are very obvious. Googling responses to the film reveals that Republican rednecks regard it as Commie propaganda to undermine decent, God-fearing white folks. In British terms, Erin Gruwell's approach reflects Conservative values: encouraging self-respect, self-control and self-help; private fundraising; encouraging people to take responsibility for their own actions; the value of individual ideas against heartless bureaucracy; encouraging poor kids to aspire to something better, rather than waiting for hand-outs.

The similarities in education are striking, however. Kids being written off because of their backgrounds; indisciplined classrooms where learning becomes impossible; teachers set in their ways feeling threatened by, and completely failing to understand, someone with new ideas and a bit of charisma; jealousy towards a teacher who fails to conform and who dares to make a difference.

Miss G is to a large extent the teacher that I would like to be. I might even buy a set of her books for my own low-ability classes. Hopefully, I would fare better than Connie Heermann.


Anonymous said...

you should forward this post to the freedom writer foundation. I know that they would love to hear from you and would give you a discount on some books as they usually do for teachers. Not only that but they run workshops for teachers all over the US for FREE! although your in the UK there might be some way you can get to a workshop. You should def. check it out!
your FW friend.

Didactophobe said...

Thanks for the message. I have seen their website and will check it out.