All that children need to be able to rise above poverty and abuse is the presence of adults in their lives who care and believe in them, according to Erin Gruwell, the California teacher whose unconventional teaching techniques were portrayed by Hilary Swank in the movie “Freedom Writers.”
School board members can be those adults, Gruwell told board members in a session entitled, “Becoming a Catalyst for Change,” on Monday at NSBA’s annual conference.
Gruwell was part of a three-speaker hour-long opening General Session on Monday, which included Angela Maiers and Nikhil Goyal. The speakers then continued in separate sessions that went more in-depth.
“You are all soldiers in an undeclared war … where children are afraid to dream,” Gruwell said. “You don’t wear capes, but you’re superheroes” for kids.
It means taking an interest in every child and how their unique history has shaped them. It also means never ignoring a swastika painted on a wall or “that word that denigrates others.”
She showed a video of sessions from the Freedom Writers Institute, where teachers practice games like one that involves peanuts, with the metaphorical lesson that “inside a hard shell, there’s something delicious.”
Also portrayed was the “line” game made famous in the movie. In the video, Gruwell asks her students to step to a line in the center of the room if various things are true…. “if you know someone who’s homeless … if you know someone who’s depressed.”
Gruwell believes students can profit from a classroom environment that has a combination of fun, sharing, and activities that some might characterize as shades of group therapy.
Education isn’t about standardized tests, Gruwell said. “It’s about connections.”