Ms. Gruwell expresses her frustration with the various ordeals that happened last semester. She concludes that, instead of being frustrated with her students, she is actually angry at the adults, who have created a system in which these adolescents are automatically labeled stupid and incapable of learning. She finds the students’ stubbornness amusing and describes their lack of commitment to homework. Because of the stigma associated with being a dedicated student, one student turns in his assignments wrinkled into a ball so that no one will know that it is homework.
Ms. Gruwell criticizes the education system’s lack of trust in its students. She also recognizes that students’ environments outside of school discourage learning. In sum, she identifies the strong, external pressures that her students have to face as the primary explanations for their low performance.
Despite the fact that most people have given up on them, including, often, their own parents, Ms. Gruwell decides not to give up on her students. She explains that, while they do not perform well on standardized tests, their intelligence expresses itself in other ways—for instance, through their knowledge of pop culture and their memorization of rap lyrics. She concludes that the best strategy is to focus on relating the classroom to their own life, using books and movies that tell stories with which they can identify. In this way, the student become passionate and engaged with the material they are discovering.
Ms. Gruwell understands that knowledge is not limited to what one learns in school but, rather, that passion and creativity can take myriad forms. Instead of ignoring her students’ interest in pop culture, she works with this interest, using it as a foundation for their learning. This demonstrates respect for her students’ intelligence, as well as the belief that passion and excitement lead to better learning. It also shows that intelligence is traditionally conceived of in culturally-specific terms, as certain books or works of art are revered above others, such as rap.
She plans to take them to see a movie about racial issues which is coming out at the end of the semester. She does not know if she would be able to manage the students outside of the classroom, but explains that she has the support of a millionaire, John Tu, who has been impressed by Ms. Gruwell’s teaching strategies and past achievements. In the meantime, she plans on trying to make Shakespeare attractive to her students, focusing on the gang-rivalry plot in Romeo and Juliet.
Despite Ms. Gruwell’s occasional sense of isolation in the school system, where many educators do not share her innovative strategies, she counts on external support, proving that not everyone is blind to her success. Ms. Gruwell works hard to make complex, historical works of literature appeal to her students, using them as catalysts for thinking about real-life issues such as gang violence.