During a recent California governor’s election race, ethical tensions surrounding "the American knowledge gaps" were voiced. Most party candidates endorsed the film WAITING FOR SUPERMAN. WAITING FOR SUPERMAN is a documentary about young American teachers striving to change the broken public education system. This, like other documentaries, tells the story by following individuals who are, in this case, striving for better education. The story also tracks the careers of a number of graduates, trained in Teach for America, as they struggle to build more equitable models of education for American Children. These teacher's gains are modest overall, but large in the communities where they have served.
WAITING FOR SUPERMAN argues that communities have not let down the schools so much as schools have let down communities. Accompanying the analysis are truly shocking facts about the ways in which American public school districts are operated. Administrative rigidity appears to be to a detriment to education of the poorest students in the country. In contrast, educators are left to do one of the hardest jobs with limited resources.
WAITING FOR SUPERMAN falls short in its analysis of the education gap because it never quite explains the value of education. Many of the kids depicted believe education will get them a good job. The film never corrects this misconception. Though better educated people are shown to have better jobs, all better educated people don't. Getting a job through education is certainly a passé expectation in the current era. FREEDOM WRITERS(LaGraveness, 2007), on the other hand, suggests that education enhances human consciousness. Enhanced human consciousness changes the quality of individual lives; a more reliable outcome than guaranteed employment for most under-resourced communities.
Looking at the educational gap more globally provides a better context than race alone. It also leads to more allied existences. TO EDUCATE A GIRL squarely anchors itself in expanding human consciousness. It, like WAITING FOR SUPERMAN, is a documentary. TO EDUCATE A GIRL best addresses all of the dimensions of ethical conflicts in education; beneficence, autonomy and justice issues. I screened this film at the Mill Valley Film Festival this past October. It is directed by Frederick Rendina and Oren Rudavsky. It was made primarily with United Nations funds and was undistributed at the time of my viewing. It is, to my mind, the best of the type. TO EDUCATE A GIRL offers a thoroughly modern handling of how to fix significant aspects of the education gap between subsets of classes and universalizes the context.
In a paradigm flip, TO EDUCATE A GIRL suggest that the true underclass of concern are the 110 million school aged children, not in school or under-schooled; two thirds of whom are girls. The narrative places the lower status of women squarely in the center of the major conflicts of human development. It weaves the geopolitical contextual features of the two nations of Nepal and Uganda. Both of these nations are fresh out of civil war.
TO EDUCATE A GIRL gets high points for demonstrating how people can explore their own cultural attitudes, legacies of religion, colonialism and neocolonialism. It illustrates which attitudes cripple and underdevelop a generation's knowledge. It also highlights those practices which support beneficence, autonomy and justice.
Use of modern techniques of radio, television and the public health model of outreach are promoted in TO EDUCATE A GIRL. Equal weight is given to technical and more traditional models of singing and performing stories to guide better understanding.
The fierce competition to get into "the best school" as in WAITING FOR SUPERMAN does not exist in TO EDUCATE A GIRL. The goal instead is getting into school at all. Like the barefoot doctors movement, the film demonstrates a barefoot teacher’s movement. Teachers recruit children from villages by convincing their families to send their children to school. These teachers educate families first. The film also documents boys and men supporting themselves through supporting their sisters and wives aspirations. It is the enlightened mother's, who wish to protect their girls from the perils of underdeveloped womanhood, who ultimately facilitate the most attitudinal change regarding education.
TO EDUCATE A GIRL provides an honest assessment of real obstacles in girl’s lives. Girls in most cultures, including the developed world, often do domestic work and toil in actual or metaphorical fields. Girls are sent out to work at an early age in under-resourced families. They are reliable as are usually their mothers. If not working outside of the home, girls are often responsible for raising their siblings and caring for the elderly while the adults are working, dead or incarcerated. In many instances, forced or arranged marriages are required to support a girl’s family. Finally, female child genocide is a feature where agriculture and resources are limited. Girls create more mouths to feed.
During war and the aftermath there is cultural destruction. Girls and women are often victimized by sexual assault. This occurs to a greater extent when women and girls are also political prisoners. Here victims of rape in the developed world meet their international sister in post-traumatic stress. We find a similar circumstance in natural disasters and wherever people are refugeed or decimated en masse. Walking to school can mean losing a girl’s life in many contexts. All of these are shown in TO EDUCATE A GIRL. All of these frequently preclude the educational aspirations of girls.
Fancy uncrowded classrooms may be ideal; however, they are not sufficient. A good teacher, on the other hand, can transform even the worst classroom into a learning environment. The best and most creative teachers are needed in the most difficult circumstances. A good teacher engages the learner. This is not to say they must be touchy feely. Teachers as shown in these films must have an organized program for engagement applicable to the community they teach. Without engagement there can be no understanding and beneficence becomes a theoretical construct. Without understanding there can be no autonomy and all the clinical medical ethical devices like informed consent and advance directives become useless. Without autonomy there can be no transformation of individuals to form just societies.
Waiting for Superman (DVD) directed by Davis Guggenheim. USA. 2010. Paramount Vantage. 112 min.
For more information on understanding, education and bioethics: see
this blog site section on Film/Bioethics Literacy - Lighten Up: Dying on Screen Slide 25, ( Spiritual Assessment & Cultural Relevance)