Last night I watched the Freedom Writers with Josh and his friend. I had read the book when it first came out while I was in the phase of reading books on education and inner cities. The book stuck with me.
Translating a diary of kids from Long Beach into a movie isn’t easy but you certainly get the idea. What struck me after seeing the movie with Josh and his friend was more about the stark differences between my kids and the kids in the movie. Believe me, this is not an awakening for me but just made me think.
If you aren’t familiar with the movie or book, I will give you the gist. First time teacher teaches Freshman English in a Long Beach, CA school that was a top school a few years back. Takes places around 1995. A law is passed in CA and people can choose their schools. Fast forward 3 years and all the top students are gone and the majority of the school is now filled with gangs from the street. Gangs that are African-American, Korean, Chinese, Mexican, etc. All of these kids have basically been fighting a war on the streets. Their families are a mess, they have seen friends sent to jail, gunned down in the street, etc. They are just in school because they are supposed to be. The teacher, who happens to be a total diamond in the rough, gets these kids to want to come to her class daily and learn. It transforms their lives and hers.
The book which is more detailed gave me a much better understanding about each kids life. The film gives a bit of insight into the horrors these kids have witnessed.
As I have been living the life of leisure on the East End of Long Island this summer, the movie really makes me think. I read about the atrocities in Newark and other inner cities. The past 7 years of policy has created an even wider divide among the rich and the poor. The middle class gets smaller daily. What is happening in Newark is similar to the atrocities that happened in Long Beach at least what the kids wrote about in the book through their eyes. Parents that can’t deal, have low paying jobs if jobs at all, fighting for their turf on the streets, having no regard for human life and wondering what is the point of making a life for myself when my role models have not one success to show. Success being a job, self esteem, a roof over their heads, a sense of community.
My kids are lucky that the world is their oyster. The kids in Newark, are lucky if they can get out alive. We are spending billions of dollars fighting a war in Iraq which looks as though nothing good will come out of it as we are basically treading water at this point. Why don’t we ever turn our capital and attention to the families in our own backyard who need social support systems and the kids that are living in a war on the streets of the US? If all the money we spent on a worthless war that basically just created a bad situation to get worse, think of the impact we could have made on educating our kids which would create new economies and better lives for us all.
It is time to channel the money we spend abroad and look in our own backyard. Stop the endless cycle. Help these families and kids look forward to better lives. The teacher in the Freedom Writers made an impact on a handful of kids. Each of those kids who were walking a very thin line ended up graduating from HS and some went on to college. We need to see more of these stories that are funded by the Federal Government. This story was funded mostly by the teacher holding down extra jobs to pay for the supplies she needed.
I have been carrying around a line written by Ralph Waldo Emerson in my wallet since May 1999. It says, "to laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded." The teacher in the Freedom Writer Diaries has made more than one life breath easier. For that she should not only be commended but an inspiration to us all.