Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Freedom Writers Project

Brian from my writing class sent me this link to this BBC article about a writing project in a Philadelphia school which has completely changed the lives of inner-city teenagers.
Trey McCloud, 14, once refused to bring a pen to class but now has a passion for writing. ... (he) says he gets upset a lot and "breaks down". But when he reads aloud to his fellow classmates, he feels respect. Writing helps him release anger that he has been "storing up". And it has turned him around academically, his teacher Mr Galbraith says: "Trey showed the most rapid development of any student I've had, and that's after 13 years in the business."
It's inspiring stuff. So inspiring that Hollywood apparently wants in on it! Yet the BBC article barely scratches the surface of what is a truly wondrous story about the power of writing to reclaim and transform lives.

The Freedom Writing Project was born when an idealistic new teacher called Erin Gruwell decided to do something different with her class of alienated and so-called "unteachable" students who:
...mocked Erin's efforts and bet on how long she would last. Then, one day, Erin intercepted a student's racial caricature. Furious, she invoked the racism that led to the Holocaust. Receiving only blank stares, she realized the students had never heard of the Holocaust. But when she asked how many of them had been shot at, almost every student raised his or her hand.

Erin dispensed with the textbooks and brought in books by teens who had lived through racism and warfare, such as Anne Frank and Zlata Filipovic. This time, the students made a powerful emotional connection. With Erin, they began to document their own lives in individual, anonymous diaries. They called themselves the "Freedom Writers," to honor the Civil Rights activists known as the Freedom Riders. As they wrote, the class made a firm and lasting commitment to change.

And change they did. Every single one of her 150 students made it to college. Some of them became journalists, teachers and writers.

The project has a website which is well worth exploring. And a book about the project is due for release in 2007.


Lydia Teh said...

Hey, this is such an inspiring story. Reminds me of To Sir with Love and that show starring Michelle Pfeiffer.

lil ms d said...

i think this is wodnerful! perhaps we can do something here?

btw, what happened to the pen thing la?

bibliobibuli said...

lydia - yes, it is like to sir with love ... just shows the difference that a good teacher - a very young and inexperienced teacher at that - can make.

of course we can do something like this here, ms d. i know others interested in working with young writers. but ideas need champions.

and so does PEN. yes, ms d. What is happening????!! no-one else is going to get this of the ground but the folks who were there at the meeting with hari. WE have to make it happen!! i did try to get some of us together for that tea so we could discuss it - but it didn't quite work that way.

no-one replied to sunitha's e-mail in which she forwarded from hari asking about what was happening. the UK side have more or less written us off as being totally apathetic. isn't that shaming? everyone is busy and has lots on their respective plates but still.

it's like everything else. we want things to happen but we want someone else to get it started for us while we drift in and out of it. (i'm not malaysian, not a famous writer, don't have PR status here so i can only help from behingd the scenes. but i'm willing to do as much as i possibly can.)

if you are still interested do your best to pull the others together and let's thrash out what we want and get back to london.

i'm also dying of frustration here. i want this to happen. to fight for writers rights, to be part of the larger world community of writers, and to use it to provide support in so many ways for the local writing community.

can we get the group together for a meeting? can you help?

Eternal Wanderer said...

This is really cool! Someone should start something like this in our schools too! MPH has been doing a really good job encouraging young teens to write, but more must be done to cultivate the writing and reading habit!

It's sad that not many students in government schools are aware of the change that is happening around them. I asked my neighbour's Form 2 kid whether he knew the significance of 9/11. He vaguely remembered his parents telling him about it but he's forgotten about it. No teachers in school even talked about it.

I don't know about you, but I find this lack of interest in world events quite worrying.

On the PEN thing, I want to join! Please remind me ya! If you need help with anything please don't hesitate to call!

Anonymous said...

You're not Malaysian ? why not ? I'm not a famous writer either, but look, I'll email you. Then we can see what we can come up with.

bibliobibuli said...

i'm not malaysian 'cos i'm british

i don't even have PR! (applied for years ago.)

e-mail me by all means

Anonymous said...

"Some of them became journalists, teachers and writers."

Why do I feel like adding ".. but others were more successful" ? :)