Class of 2015 to read about students’ quest for tolerance and freedom

June 10, 2011

By the time McDaniel’s class of 2015 arrives on campus Aug. 24, the 400-plus first-year students will have already completed their first assignment – reading Erin Gruwell’s “The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them.”

McDaniel’s newest students will discuss the book during orientation and during their first-year seminars. Other activities and events related to the books messages of freedom, success against all odds and understanding are in the planning stages.

The bestseller and movie with Academy Award-winner Hillary Swank features the anonymous journal entries of Gruwell’s “unteachable, at-risk” students from Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, Calif. During her first year teaching in 1999, the then 23-year-old English teacher intercepted a note with a racial slur and told her class that this kind of thinking led to the Holocaust. To her surprise, none of her students had heard of the Holocaust and that inspired Gruwell to guide her students on an educational crusade against intolerance and prejudice. Along the way, the students anonymously charted their thoughts and emotions in their diaries.

“Freedom Writers” was selected by ballot among McDaniel students, faculty and staff from a short list of six nominated books that had been whittled down from a list of 40 submitted to committee members as potential first-year summer reading titles, according to committee chair Andi Hoffman, assistant professor of Exercise Science and Physical Education.

“It’s an excellent choice,” Hoffman says. “The book offers plenty of opportunity for critical reading and reflection – and discussion.”

Criteria for a first-year reading selection include applicability to a variety of disciplines, the likelihood the book wasn’t assigned reading during high school, opportunities for activities and events during orientation and the fall semester, and a topic that will engage students.

"(McDaniel’s first-year) students can relate to the students in the book – their struggles with their own environment and yet their success in life in spite of their environment,” Hoffman says.

Erin Gruwell talking about her first year of teaching

Erin Gruwell talks about the Freedom Writers journals

Summer Reading