Sunday, January 10, 2010


The screening in Boston was in a brand new building at Northeastern, filled with very comfortable chairs. Lou Kruger, director of the School Psychology Program was our host, and Barry Chung, the chair of Counseling and Applied Educational Psychology, came by to welcome us. Our son Jesse came with us, and we relied on him several times, as he guided others to the room, helped with the computer set up, and trouble-shot during the screening at one point.

We lost a few folks to an important hearing on education at the state capital, but still had a great turn out: Ayla Gavins, principal of Mission Hill Pilot School, Monty Neill and Lisa Guisband of Fairtest, Jay and Helen Featherstone --authors and professors of education who have written widely about the english primary schools and progressive education, Emeritus professor of education at Leslie College and longtime consultant on Open education, Brenda Engel, Harvard professor and student of Piaget, Eleanor Duckworth, Berklee College teacher Dave Scott and his wife Renee, film maker Ed Howe, and Center for Independent Documentary director, Susi Walsh.

People were so positive, it blew us away. Here are some of the comments that people mailed me in the days following the screening:

Ayla Gavins "What a privilege it was to view your film. I loved it! My first thought when the film ended was that I wanted to watch it again."

Helen Featherstone "It was terrific to meet you and I really really like your film. We talked about it a lot on the way home and then again this morning. One other thing that your film does that is important is that it dispels the notion that teachers in progressive schools have no standards and tell kids that every thing they do is WONDERFUL: I was very impressed by the way in which you pushed kids, insisting that they really do the assignment. But of course that is just one little thing. The main thing is that you and Tom have succeeded in showing what a school year looks like, for kids and for others."

Jay Featherstone "I really think it's a wonderful film, and will be happy to write recs or whatever."

Monty Neill "It was a pleasure to see the film and be with folks. I'd be happy to dialog with you re: intro, closing, text, narration to help with 'political location' as it were. And I'd be pleased to provide a quote, etc."

Lisa Guisbond "I'm percolating my thoughts about the film, which I found beautiful, engaging and profound. I'll email them to you soon. What an idyllic world you created for those adorable, incredibly fortunate children. Seems like an educational garden of Eden. Feeling a bit sad that neither of my boys have had such an educational experience, or only in little morsels here and there, not as a daily diet. Sad that so few children have had this"

Louis Kruger "The film was excellent, and very well received by the group."

Feedback included wanting more subtitles or improvements in the sound, so that important conversations weren't lost, more clarity as to who was a teacher and who was a parent, wishing that we had filmed a teacher meeting to give more of a sense of how the team works together, and (the biggest subject of conversation) where and how to elucidate simply and without sounding smug the need to move away from standardized tests and one size fits all education. Several people felt that the first 20 minutes were confusing, and that the film didn't take off for them until around the winter holiday section, but others said that complexity mirrored what was going on for the children, and was why the later parts of the film were able to be so compelling. Susi Walsh was effusive about the beauty of Tom's images. People talked about the way Tom has captured children's expressions and the way we see them develop in the course of the year. There was a wish that we could show more specific examples of how one or two children had grown academically. Some people hadn't caught that it was a public school.

Everyone present seems willing to give us glowing endorsements. Jay is already thinking of ways he could use the film as he works towards creating a charter school with an arts focus. Helen suggested I try WT Grant foundation for funding, and although it seems like a long shot, I will pursue that, especially as she has received funding from them, and is willing to write on our behalf.

The following night we showed it to Tom's extended family (including two young cousins who sat spellbound to our great surprise and pleasure). Much praise, and many questions followed. It is clear that we will need to have some explanatory material about the school and the district--maybe as part of the dvd package, or as a written insert.

Our daughter and son both gave us excellent suggestions and feedback. Suddenly this feels like a family effort! Keja made a comment that I have been thinking about a lot. In terms of what we want the film to accomplish, by having me the subject of the first and last scenes, we give the message that this film circles around the teacher. If we don't want that to be the message, the first scene needs to change. Hmmmm. That is certainly part of our message--giving teachers the wherewithal to teach well is crucial, but is that the main message? I'll get back to you on that!

Saturday, January 9, 2010


We got to Brooklyn on December 21, and it has been a flurry of activity ever since. At 3 pm on the 22nd I found myself waiting in a drizzle in front of Junior's restaurant across the street from Long Island University. Howard Katzoff and Fred Spinowitz were meeting us there, but Tom was still at LIU dealing with projectors that wouldn't show our video! Luckily for us, the technician at LIU hadn't gone home yet, and Tom joined us before the cheesecake arrived. I have been corresponding with Howard for several months, since discovering his website,, which is sponsored by the Orion Society's Whole Child Education Initiative. Meeting him in the flesh was like meeting an old friend. When we started talking, it turned out that Fred (who is a former middle school principal, and now supervises student teachers when he is not painting) had just visited the junior high school that I attended! The conversation flowed flawlessly from memories of Brooklyn in the 50's and 60's to the politics that surround teaching. The pump was primed for viewing the video, and we strolled over to LIU, where the group grew larger with the addition of Lynn and Michael Hassan, and Marita Downes of LIU. Jerry Mitnz of AERO was delayed in traffic, but arrived about a third of the way through the screening, and right after him, my former student, Sara Hotchkiss. Jerry brought two students with him, who also contributed to the conversation.

Tom recorded the feedback, and I will be interested to hear it when I get back to California to see how well it jives with my memories as I am recording them after three more screenings, and may be mixing them up, but here goes. It has been very gratifying to see how much people basically enjoy the film, and relate to the children, the teacher, and the subject matter. Marita had to leave early, but as she left, told me it had been a privilege to watch the film. Jerry Mintz wanted more information about the structure of the school, and the community, but he missed that part of the film. For his philosophy of education, the school we show is not democratic enough, but he saw the value of showing what is possible in a public school setting. He would like more narration, and more comparison--wondered about using a student to narrate his or her perspective on what was happening.

Everyone felt my narration was appropriate, and that the more personal narration was the strongest. Fred would cut some of the social/emotional content. He and Howard disagreed on that point, but agreed that we need to find ways to spell out more clearly the context of the film in today's narrowing of instructional practices, but do it unobtrusively, and without an ax to grind. Lynn spoke strongly for keeping the social/emotional as a major component. Howard talked of the fine line we have to walk, between creating a dramatic and artistic product, and advocating for relevant education. Sara was pleased to see how similar the school was to the way it was when she was a student, and applauded Tom's photography. She reminded me that her dad has been involved in fundraising for the Ojai Society's school, and I will contact him when I get home, in case he might have some leads for us. We left this first screening feeling awed and buoyed by the experience! Guess I'll have to write about the other screenings another day, as it is almost midnight!