Fresh-faced, idealistic twenty-three-year-old Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank) is ready to take on the world as she steps inside Wilson High School for her first day of teaching. Her class, a diverse group of racially charged teenagers from different walks of life -- African Americans, Latinos, Asians, juvenile delinquents, gang members, and underprivileged students from poor neighborhoods -- hope for nothing more than to make it through the day. On the surface, the only thing they share is their hatred for each other and the understanding that they are simply being warehoused in the educational system until they are old enough to disappear. Despite her students' obstinate refusal to participate during class, Erin tries various means to engage them on a daily basis.
But then ghetto reality steps in to focus the picture. A racially motivated gang shooting witnessed by a Latina gang member in Erin's class, and an an ugly racial cartoon that Erin intercepts during class, become the most unwittingly dynamic teaching aids. They spark a transformation in the classroom, compel them to listen and force her to take off her idealistic blinders and take in the kids' survival stories of their undeclared war on the streets. Erin begins to connect with them. She brings in music from the ‘Hood, and literature from another kind of ghetto, The Diary of Anne Frank, and with these simple tools she opens her students' eyes to the experiences of those suffering intolerance throughout the world and the struggles of those outside their own communities.
Knowing that every one of her students has a story to tell, Erin encourages them to keep a daily journal of their thoughts and experiences. After sharing their stories with one another, the students see their shared experience for the first time and open up to the idea that there are possibilities in life outside of making it to the age of eighteen. Based on a true story, Freedom Writers is an inspirational tale and testimony to courage, hope and the human spirit's triumph over intolerance. As the students' diaries transform from schoolwork into life preservers, Gruwell's commitment to them grows and affects her in ways she did not imagine.