Breath of Clarity

Freedom Writers

It’s 1994 in Long Beach, California. Idealistic Erin Gruwell is just starting her first teaching job, that as freshman and sophomore English teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School, which, two years earlier, implemented a voluntary integration program. For many of the existing teachers, the integration has ruined the school, whose previously stellar academic standing has been replaced with many students who will be lucky to graduate or even be literate. Despite choosing the school on purpose because of its integration program, Erin is unprepared for the nature of her classroom, whose students live by generations of strict moral codes of protecting their own at all cost. Many are in gangs and almost all know somebody that has been killed by street violence. The different races (Latinos, Cambodians and Blacks) are in conflict constantly.

It isn’t until Erin holds an unsanctioned discussion about a recent drive-by shooting death that she fully begins to understand what she’s up against. And it isn’t until she provides an assignment of writing a daily journal- which will be not graded, and will remain unread by her unless the specific student chooses to disclose it- that the students start to open up. As Erin tries increasingly harder to have resources provided to teach properly (which often results in her needing to pay for them herself through working a second and third job), she seems to face greater resistance, especially from colleagues. Erin also finds that her teaching job is a strain on her marriage to Scott, a man who seems to have lost his own idealistic way of life.

My initial reaction to this film was a sense of admiration for the director who skillfully chose writing as a way to portray the perspective of young adults who deal with racial conflict unavoidably in the neighborhood. The film is realistic, considering that it illustrates the fact that students would be uncomfortable discussing their unhealthy home life circumstances. Writing legitimately brings out the beautiful souls of the students who simply struggle because they lack any sort of guidance and genuine care.

The fact that the students are hesitant, initially, to write and submit the journals shows that when individuals become used to a certain lifestyle and lack of support, it is more difficult than we would think to rise above it all because they find it difficult to trust others and even themselves. Growing up around constant racial tension makes it even more difficult for individuals who live in low-income unsafe environments to get through life. The most significant strength of this film is the way that Erin successfully brings her students together through this common experience of intense struggle.

The ultimate theme of the story is that the human race can all connect to one another simply because we all struggle. The film shows that even Erin experiences difficulty- working three jobs and dealing with the fact that her marriage is falling apart. By illustrating this commonality among all people, the director shows the insignificance of race and that there is no reason to maintain separation when we all really need each other’s support more than anything.