Friday, October 22, 2010

John Merrow puts us on the map!

It's so interesting how networking works. Early on in the life of this project I contacted some of the educators whose writings I respected and asked if they would look at a 45 minute compilation meant to span all the areas we could possibly develop in the film. Alfie Kohn and Deb Meier were among those who responded, giving important initial feedback. Deb also sent information about us to a number of her colleagues. As a result Brenda Engel was among those who helped us define our direction. A year later, with a much more developed work, I asked another of Deb's and Alfie's contacts, Monty Neill to help us screen the first rough cut. He suggested that Brenda Engel might invite Jay and Helen Featherstone.

The group of a dozen or so people who watched the film in Louis Kruger's Northeastern classroom all sparked our energy with wonderful comments, and the Featherstones began corresponding with us. When Jay asked what he could do to help us, I asked if he knew anyone in media--for example John Merrow, long time education reporter on PBS.

It turns out Jay was one of John's thesis advisors at Harvard! He wrote a wonderful letter suggesting John view the film. To our great pleasure John also found value in our work. This led to a phone interview, which led to John's blog about us at

That review has multiplied our network by many factors!! Requests to screen the film, ranging from a teacher's union in Des Moines to Stanford's Governor's Corner Office of Residential Education, arrive each time I open my email. My "outreach learning curve" is being challenged, and I'm paddling hard to be up to speed with their requests, but we couldn't be more delighted with the opportunities that are arising. When 60 Minutes called, I nearly fell off my chair! Fingers crossed that when they see the film they will find it calls to them as strongly as it did to the thread that led them to us: Deb and Alfie to Monty and Brenda to Jay and Helen to John.

It seems to me that no matter what 60 Minutes decides, the pendulum is starting to swing in the other direction. As parents join the mix, it won't be long before the voices for meaningful education are louder than the voices of the test pushers.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fast and Furious

Responses to Waiting for Superman are all over the media world. Some of them drive me crazy, as they accept his assumption that we have figured out how to measure "good schools" and "good teachers" with standardized tests, and could give every child a "good education" if we just made more spots available in charters. Many echo my own response to the film: I'm glad that people are talking about what needs to be changed in our schools, but: Whoa Nelly! Take a closer look before thinking that galloping down the charter school path in and of itself is the answer!

Here are a couple of articles I particularly appreciated:
This youtube video: (some of whose information could have been very useful to balance Guggenheim's questionable factoids)

So then here we come, trotting behind a well-financed and publicized film like Waiting for You Know Who. By showing that learning is not like that dreadful animation of a teacher pouring knowledge into the open heads of students, can we make use of the momentum Guggenheim has created to "initiate a gigantic, messy, national conversation that would take place in every neighborhood, every barrio, every ghetto of every city and every town, to raise the questions: "What knowledge and experiences are most valuable? What makes someone an educated person? How do we make that knowledge and experience accessible to all students?" (Bill Ayers words from a recent Truthout article)? That is our challenge.

Every day I find new allies online. Some are voices that have been there for a long time, but that I hadn't run across, but also there are teachers and parents who are just now ready to speak out.

A few months ago we were told (in so many words) by the Fledgling Foundation that they couldn't fund us although they loved our film. They felt the education community was so divided that the time wasn't at hand where a film could have much impact. I think I will write to them now and see if they still feel the same way.