January 20, 2012
Billy Wilder used film as a vehicle for raising social awareness in the hilariously acerbic comedy, “One, Two, Three” which took place in Post-War Berlin. Art imitates life full tilt here as the Germans erected the Berlin Wall during filming. Wilder was a bit daring for this time period of extreme social unrest and change on the heels of WWII. Exactly! Making a strong social statement that has the power and potential to reach people and provoke heart-felt reactions is to say the least difficult. It is uncomfortable to see the extreme suffering and inequality in the world 24/7. Where once people could feign innocence by pleading that they had no idea what was going on that is hardly the reality today. In the film, James Cagney’s heel-clicking male secretary Schlemmer, responds to Cagney’s question, “Just between us Schlemmer, what did you do during the war?” Schlemmer responds, “..I had no idea what was going on above ground…”
As an art form, film is an extremely powerful media, and used in a certain way, it has the ability to reach into our hearts and connect us to the very things inside ourselves that can be energized to promote social justice and change. Social media in general and the availability of film on the Internet is an exciting, vital and instantaneous result of the digital media revolution. It offers a chance to address one of the biggest dilemmas facing education; how can we deliver information on an equal and just level to all students around the world, around countries, states, cities a villages? How can we engage students and keep them excited and enthusiastic about learning? The way I see it is not quite as simple as 1, 2, 3, but that might be a good device with which to get started.
1. Bring History into the Present
A beautiful example of this was the newly released Black Power Mixtape a fascinating and revealing documentary of the Black Power Movement in America, from 1967-1975. The footage was created by Swedish journalists and edited together after having been recently found in the basement of a Swedish television station.
The history of that seminal movement may be new to some, but the subject matter is not. Martin Luther King Jr. day just passed, and it is still hard to reconcile the fact that racial and gender discrimination are both sadly alive and well. On a recent show on KPFK’s Democracy Now, Amy Goodman held a discussion on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. day to discuss the mass Incarceration of Black Americans. She quoted Michelle Alexander who revealed a startling fact, “…there are more African Americans percentage-wise imprisoned in the United States, more black people, than were at the height of apartheid South Africa.” How could I not know this fact?
I grew up in California, and was extremely fortunate to receive the best possible education while attending public school. Mind you, it was in Beverly Hills, so that sort of removes it from comparison to any other public educational institutions. My first year in High School, 1970, was the first year of busing for the school. In my high school, of course it was one-way busing. I’ll explain. Busing, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, was the forced busing of students from one part a city to another, as a means to de-segregate schools, and was a direct result of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. All over America the cities themselves were and to a great degree, and still are, racially segregated. School districts lines were intentionally created to segregate schools and were often, (see Jim Crow laws) conscious efforts to send black and in Los Angeles, Mexican children, to inferior schools. But they did not “bus” the wealthier white kids to the schools in the poorer communities of color, all that way across town. We never talked about that as students; we just went on about our integrated lives while taking courses such as “Black Studies” and “Native American Studies.”
I don’t remember which class it was in, but we were shown the 1955 film Nacht und Nebel (“Night and Fog)” by Alain Resnais. It was an absolutely horrifying experience as a documentary short film about the horrors of the Nazi Concentration Camps. I never forgot those two words.
2.Global Partnership in Technology
If the goal is to educate, truly, and disseminate knowledge and history so relevant to our world today, why not use the technology so readily available, to bring education to everyone? Using digital technology, we have a chance to bring education infused with energy and excitement to, just about everyone! Give students of all ages a chance to learn by doing, and by example. Use film and digital video to break down the inequality in education that exists not only in 3rd world villages, but also in some of the wealthiest communities in the leading countries of the world. A very inspiring and successful example of this is The Bridgeit Program in Tanzania. Educational video content is available via mobile technology to 150 rural primary schools in Tanzania. Classrooms have large computer monitors and from mobile phones, teachers can select from a wide variety of lessons, some of them tailored to fit their local area and address local issues. Nokia, Nokia Siemens Networks, the Vodacom Foundation, and the Pearson Foundations are in partnership with the International Youth Foundation and the Tanzanian Ministry of Education, to make this advanced technology possible. There you go. If that can happen in Tanzania, there is no reason whatsoever that cannot happen everywhere. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eif2UKRNIOg
3. Get Corporations Involved
Now that we have the media attention, why not get creative and come up with ways that global corporations might participate, and clean up their image a bit? The International Youth Foundation has partnered again with, believe it or not, Starbucks TM. Starbucks TM has created The Starbucks TM Youth Action Grants Program, which makes funding available with grants of approx. $10,000 each. These grants directly support the efforts of young people around the world, enabling and encouraging them to become innovators and increase their skills in order to improve their lives, communities and expand their ability to make a difference on a global scale. Take Plan B, Kenya, one of the 2011 grant recipients. They are using video art to energize active interest among students on college campuses in Kenya, surrounding the issues in the 2012 elections. http://www.canthingsgetbetter.org/
Perhaps the joy and delight I have found in learning new things has its basis in my early educational years. The excitement of traveling the highways of our minds, finding ourselves stimulated and enriched while on a voyage of discovery–– is a gift that should be given to all children, to people of all ages and all walks of life. Only by becoming fully aware can we hope to be engaged participants in our own lives and in the world. What a wonderful thing to help children find their own path, and have the courage and self-esteem to walk on it. How different the world would look.
“Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” ~Malcolm Forbes
Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design
www.jeanniewinston.com / E: firstname.lastname@example.org