Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Female Eye Film Festival: Facing Forward

It is true that the ones who come from privileged backgrounds will have the ability to excel far more rapidly than those who are stuck in a cycle of impoverished conditions, where survival comes way before getting an education. But, is the United States education system really broken, or have we just not found the proper methods to teach our next generation?

Making its international premiere at the Female Eye Film Festival, Laura Paglin’s revealing documentary, Facing Forward, truly challenges the way we look at the United States education system as a whole. Set in Cleveland, Ohio, a new charter school called E Prep focuses solely on the importance of academic learning for inner-city students, which prides itself on an authoritarian environment and strict curriculum.

We get to follow a sad, yet familiar story of a student named Tyree, an African-American seventh grader who didn't learn to read until the fifth grade. Hoping for a better life than what she was dealt with, Tyree’s over-worked and hostile mom decides to enroll both him and his sister into E Prep. Tyree is a definite challenge to the staff of E Prep because of his aggressive and defiant behaviour, but knowing what he could be faced with (a life on the streets, drugs, violence, , incarceration) the hours of homework, 7 am – 5 pm class, after-school tutoring, and overcoming many obstacles, including a highly dysfunctional home life, Tyree is hopeful he won’t be another statistic.

At first, I was really angry watching this film. I found the rigid structure of the school to be more like a jail sentence, not allowing students’ to speak to each other during the lunch period and having them hold school books only on the right side of their bodies, and permitting bathroom breaks, two times a day. It was absolutely horrible seeing how these students’ were being trained like drones, instead of having the ability to think for themselves, in an active and engaging environment.

Soon though, my feelings changed, as the realization that any type of structure is totally absent in the students’ lives, so E Prep’s ‘school of hard-knocks’ learning, although sometimes extreme, has a purpose. The high rate of achievement, increased self-worth and the ability for students’ to develop skills that they would have never had the opportunity to learn anywhere else, makes those who graduate into high school even more special, with the potential for even greater things to come.

The main problem seems to be the apparent disconnect between home and school. E Prep almost feels like a huge security blanket for many of the inner-city youth, but when the bus comes at 5 pm, their lives change and homework and studying is an afterthought.

So the question remains, is this type of school the beginning of a greater educational system that will enrich the lives of inner-city youth, or an unrealistic pressure that needs more tweaking? Only time will tell.