77 pages • 2 hours readErin Gruwell and Freedom Writers
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In and outside of school, the students’ lives are organized according to their racial identity. As one student writes, “Schools are just like the city and the city is just like prison. All of them are divided into separate sections, depending on race” (9-10). Because students regularly encounter race-based violence on the streets, they self-segregate by race at school. Even if they avoid joining a gang, they might be attacked on the street simply for the color of their skin.
Initially, the students identify strongly with their race. They feel they have to defend people of their own race, even if they are guilty, and that they need to return force with force, even if it means their own death. But as the book progresses, the students become more tolerant of people different than them. Ms. Gruwell makes tolerance the focus of her curriculum. The students play the “Peanut Game,” in which they learn that “a peanut is still a peanut even if the shell is different” and not to “judge a peanut by its shell” (38). They read books that emphasize tolerance, visit the Museum of Tolerance, and speak to Holocaust survivors. A pivotal moment for the students is when