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Freedom Writers, a movie directed by Richard LaGravenese and staring Hilary Swank, is a truly inspirational drama in which Erin Gruwell, a first year, freshman and sophomore class English teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School, teaches her class about more than just English, while learning about the troubled lives of her students. Mrs. Gruwell has to fight for her students’ interest in education meanwhile battling her pessimistic coworkers who have no desire to better the students. Despite the difficulties she faces and the consequences she faces, nothing dulls her spark to improve the lives and mindsets of her freshman, and eventually sophomore, English class.
Throughout the film, every main character does a lot of learning, resulting in many examples of different types of learning. At first, the students were very standoffish with Mrs. Gruwell. They hated her because she was white, and they had learned to hate white people; however, when Mrs. Gruwell started putting more effort into helping the students rather than just teaching them as any “normal” class, a few students started to reach out to her and accept the positivity and respect that she had to offer them. Most of the students still didn’t want anything to do with Mrs. Gruwell, but, through observational learning of watching their classmates, more and more students began to warm up to Mrs. Gruwell and have respect for her until eventually all of the students looked up to her, and the entire class became a sort of family. Another type of learning that was exhibited in Freedom Writers is operant conditioning. When the students were given the assignment to write a letter to Miep Gies, Mrs. Gruwell agreed to look into actually sending her the letters and the possibility of having her visit the school to speak to them. Because of this reward incentive, the students actually did their work and they learned that, by participating in the class and accomplishing their assignments, they would be rewarded. The students in Mrs. Gruwell’s class also learned through classical conditioning. All their lives, they had been conditioned to think they were less than someone else and to think they had to turn to violence. In the scene where Tito draws the picture making fun of Jamal, Eva goes off, telling Mrs. Gruwell about how she was raised to hate white people because of how they took her father away “just because they can.”
The character that learned the most throughout the film was Eva. In the beginning, Eva was incredibly against anyone. She only trusted herself and harbored strong hatred for anyone of a different race. Due to the hardships she faced all throughout her life, she lived in fear. However, by the end of the film, Eva had opened up to Mrs. Gruwell and the other students. By being shown how not all people are out to get her and that some people actually will help and support her out of the goodness of their hearts, she learned that she didn’t have to be so afraid and so filled with hate. She went from completely shutting everyone out to having open respect and trust for her peers. On the other side of the spectrum, the character who learned the least was Ms. Campbell, the head of the English department. Throughout the entire film, she had no hope for any of the students. She actively fought Mrs. Gruwell in attempts to hold the students back. She believed that they were lost causes and that nobody could do anything to teach them or change them for the better. Even to the end of the movie, Ms. Campbell believed that there was no point in helping them the way Mrs. Gruwell was and fought to keep her away from benefitting them by continuing to teach them in their junior and senior years. Mrs. Gruwell gave her many opportunities to learn that the students could be helped and that there was more to them than violence. She kept trying to get Ms. Campbell to use budget money to actually teach them, and she kept refusing. Even when the students’ grades reflected what they had learned, Ms. Campbell continued to have no faith in them. Despite Ms. Campbell’s disgusting pessimism, in one scene of the film, she does make a good point. She tells Mrs. Gruwell that “you can’t make someone want an education, the best you can do is get them to obey.” I do agree with her that you can’t force someone to want to learn, but you can get them to listen to you. The true desire to learn can only come from intrinsic motivation; however, just because someone doesn’t want to learn, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get them to learn. It is possible to force someone to obey enough to learn what you have to teach, but they still won’t learn it on the same level as someone who actually wants to learn.
In the same way that Mrs. Gruwell was a true inspiration for her troubled students, my father is my biggest role model. Despite all of his setbacks in life, he was still able to fight his way to a great point in his life where he can succeed more than most people. Growing up, he made a lot of mistakes. He and my mom had me when they were teenagers. My dad barely graduated from high school and didn’t go to college and had to work a “bottom-of-the-barrel” job. Now, eighteen years later, he has a high paying job that gives him room to improve his position, a nice house, the ability to do anything he wants, and, on top of it, he’s a great father. He is my biggest role model and inspiration to succeed. He taught me to push myself because, no matter where you start from, you can always make it wherever you want to be if you just put your mind to it.
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