A perfect illustration of how societal divides of race, caste, colour, financial standing and other discriminating factors have a direct impact on the ability and quality of learning by the affected; is the movie Freedom Writers. I want to draw attention to how the social evils get interspersed with the education system and pose completely different kinds of problems which also need dire and instantaneous attention and how teachers are the single most important agents with the capability to curb the dominance of society over the fundamental right of education. And I will try to do that by writing up a review of the movie. Here goes!
Although based on a hackneyed concept of conflict between the whites and the blacks and the evident marginalization of the African-Americans, ‘Freedom Writers’ is a simple but intense narrative about how the personal combats of students manifests in their receiving quality education. It uses the strains in the socio-cultural milieu and how, that in itself, creates a rift in the kind of education one is ‘allowed’ to be subjected to. The discrimination in academics based on the ‘assumed’ level of the students and it’s direct impact on their understanding of the importance of learning.
It is a story of a white teacher who decides to make tough choices for the love of the distrait children she comes to teach. Starting out with a dream to be a lawyer to bring systemic change in the social system; to help deviants back into the realm of social order and security, she soon realizes education is a more redolent and progressive way to bring reform, working directly with the section that needs uniting. It is a story about the role of a teacher and the magnitude of change their commitment towards their profession can bring in the larger demesne of existence.
The film successfully illustrates the rigidity of systems and their resistance and ridicule for the idea of shifting from the ‘norm’. It, also, beautifully captures the journey of change in a set of deviant and rejected students who are tolerated but despised and denounced as unworthy of education. As it progresses, the movie scaffolds how perseverance, courage and time can change situations and people for the better. It throws light on how children, with their incomplete logic, shape their ideologies based on circumstances and mirror people who love them. E.g.: A child of an angry person can become angry, just to form a basis for identification with that parent.
Moving away from defining problems, and segregating problem children, being able to connect with them takes understanding of their situation and their belief in your understanding of their situation. A child in a classroom cannot be seen in isolation from his overall story as an individual. Learning, in its true sense, happens when an idealistic but non-judgmental adult wants to educate and not just teach the subject. When they are able to walk the talk and live their own lesson. Children don’t learn from words as much as they learn from modeled behavior, and you cannot fake inspiration. ‘Freedom Writers’ is a story about one such teacher who turned coal into diamonds, against all odds and gave the kids something to believe in by restoring some of their lost faith and displaced respect; in themselves, in education and in society.
It also speaks about the importance of choices and whether we let our fear or anger come in the way of honoring these choices, makes us the people we eventually become. The movie captures the anger and extreme fear at both ends, the discriminators and the ones being discriminated. Children living in racial discrimination feel fear of rejection, of being misunderstood, of being called deviants. People who discriminate feel the fear of rebellion, of diluting their dominance, of being attacked. Either ways, it takes courage to fight fear. One white teacher can love children from different communities, face rejection, opposition, and yet love her work and children to be able to ‘Toast for Change’.
In a nutshell the movie is about movement and a teacher’s importance in shaping the ideology for tomorrow; for developing intelligent workers or people who are whole or on their way to wholeness. They can either create love and hope; or resentment and constraint (fear of the system). The answer is in the teacher’s conduct.
I highly recommend you watch the movie and be awed by the power of ‘stories’ =)
By Neeti Singhal – Educational Specialist