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Erin Gruwell (born August 15, 1969) is an Americanmarker teacher known for her unorthodox teaching method, which led to the publication of The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them (1999). The 2007 film Freedom Writers is based on her story.


Gruwell is a graduate of Bonita High School, in La Verne, California, and the University of California, Irvinemarker, where she received the Lauds and Laurels Distinguished Alumni Award. She earned her Master’s Degree and teaching credentials from California State University, Long Beachmarker, where she was honored as Distinguished Alumna by the School of Education.

Teaching career

Gruwell was born in California, United States. She began student teaching in 1994 at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, Californiamarker. As a student teacher, she was assigned the lowest-performing students in the school. One student, a boy she referred to as "Sharaud", seemed determined to make her life miserable. He had transferred to Wilson from a rival high school where he had allegedly threatened his teacher with a gun. However, a few months into the school year one of her other students passed a note depicting Sharaud (an African American) with extremely large lips. Infuriated, Gruwell told the class that that was the type of caricature that the Nazis had used during the Holocaust. When only one of the students knew what the Holocaust was, Gruwell changed the theme of her curriculum to tolerance. Gruwell took the students to see Schindler's List, bought new books out of her own pocket and invited guest speakers.

After her year of student teaching, Gruwell returned to Wilson as a full teacher, this time with a class of freshmen. Her fall semester got off to a rocky start due to student protests of Proposition 187. But Gruwell persevered, and reached her students by asking them to make movies of their lives, keep journals, and relating the family feud in Romeo and Juliet to a gang war. She also had the students read books written by and about other teenagers in times of war, such as The Diary of a Young Girl, Zlata's Diary and Night. Writing journals became a solace for many of the students, and because the journals were shared anonymously, teenagers who once refused to speak to someone of a different race became like a family.

In the fall of 1995, Gruwell gave each of her students a bag full of new books and had them make a toast for change. After that, she saw a turnaround in them. The students, who school administrators had thought were not intelligent enough to read higher-level books and were destined to drop out, went on to shock everyone. All 150 Freedom Writers graduated from high school and many went on to attend college.

Between 1994 and 1998, the Freedom Writers garnered a great deal of media coverage, including appearances on PrimeTime Live, The View and Good Morning America.

After teaching

In 1998, Gruwell left Wilson High School and became a Distinguished Teacher in Residence at California State University, Long Beachmarker. In doing so, she hoped to ensure that prospective teachers could learn from her experiences and find a way to inspire other disadvantaged students. Gruwell later went on to start the Freedom Writers Foundation, which aspires to spread the Freedom Writers method across the country.

In 2000, just 30 years old, Gruwell ran for Congress in CA-38.

The Freedom Writers Diary is a 1999 book written by Erin Gruwell. It is the basis of the 2007 movie Freedom Writers, starring Hilary Swank.

She has written an autobiographical account of her experiences, entitled Teach with Your Heart: Lessons I Learned from the Freedom Writers, published around the same time as the movie's release.


  1. About Erin Gruwell - Freedom Writers Foundation
  2. Erin Gruwell - Freedom Writers Movie - The Real Story

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