Hollywood rarely stands and delivers films with any depth about teaching in the blackboard jungle. Dangerous minds oversimplify the lives of great teachers and give the impression that all it takes is a good heart and determination to succeed. If only writers would lean on meaning instead of melodrama.“Freedom Writers” falls into these same snares. The film may be inspired by a true story, but it’s a mishmash of scenes we’ve seen before. For a film about original teaching methods, the storyline is surprisingly derivative and predictable. Let’s see if you can guess the plot points. Since the movie is about high school, and I’m guessing you’re well versed in the subcategory of inner city school movies, take this simple “Freedom Writers" quiz.
1. Whenever there are scenes featuring the student population milling around, the soundtrack features: a. Bruce Springsteen b. Bob Dylan c. Mahler d. Angry rap music
2. When new idealistic teacher Erin Gruwell (Hillary Swank) first meets her inner city students, they: a. Greet her with a hearty handshake and a pat on the back. b. Quietly enter the room and “veg out.” c. Break into an interpretive dance. d. Make sexually derogatory comments and start fighting.
3. When Erin Gruwell attempts to get help from the head of her department to supply her students with copies of The Diary of Anne Frank, her boss: a. Provides the books. b. Tells Ms. Gruwell that movie versions of the book are available in the library should she need them. c. Demands that Ms. Gruwell choose texts that are more stimulating and ambitious. d. Is totally unsupportive and refuses for fear the books will be vandalized.
4. The day after an emotional class where the students share their feelings about the violence surrounding their lives, the students: a. Don’t show up for class. b. Make appointments with their counselor for further emotionally cleansing discussions. c. Request that their teacher get back to the business of teaching Homer’s The Odyssey. d. Magically stop misbehaving, and begin listening to their teacher.
5. Which of the following issues does not affect the inner city students’ lives. a. Alcohol b. Drugs c. Drive-bys d. Poverty e. Inability to stare into the eyes of their beloved teacher and tear up.
6. Erin Gruwell gets assistance and support from: a. Her principal b. Her colleagues c. Her curriculum advisor d. Her husband e. Nobody! She does it all by herself, with the love and support of her students.This last question is the one that gets me the most about “Freedom Writers.” As a teacher who has taught inner city students for the last six years, I’ve found that students benefit the most, not from caring, nurturing teachers, but from caring nurturing communities where teachers, parents and administrators work together as a team, but I guess that doesn’t make for high drama.