This last week saw the opening night of the First Annual PG Documentary Film Festival. The festival is focused on social justice themed documentaries that will be screened over the next three weeks before the end of the semester. Student and faculty panelists from relevant departments on campus are scheduled to sit in on each screening, and to lead discussion after the film.
Matt Jordan from the Office of Res Life offered his praise of RHC Bethany Yates, who spearheaded the festival. “She and her staff have been diligently working to put this together so that students, faculty, and staff would have an opportunity to have important discussions surrounding social justice.”
Yates herself said she wanted the opportunity “to act as the educator RAs are supposed to be.” She continued, “When my staff brought up doing a film festival on social justice issues […] I was excited. Not only would this allow them to model their strengths for residents, but it would also allow for me to participate in educating the residents of our campus about important topics, such as inequality in education and the misrepresentation of women in the media.”
The first film of the series was screened on Monday April 6 in the PG common room. 180 Days: A Year Inside an American School was screened, to a small audience of students and staff. The film documented a school year in the Washington D.C. public school system, looking at the first graduating class of DC Met in particular. DC Met has a population made up entirely of students of color, mostly African-American, most living at or below the poverty level. Only a portion of the film was shown at the event, a segment that discussed the standardized testing the school had to prepare for in order to be judged on their “No Child Left Behind” qualifications, as well as the journeys of two graduating seniors.
The film, slightly outdated as even the tests the students were preparing for (the DC CAS) have since been eliminated and replaced in D.C., gave a lot of disheartening information that most were already at some level aware of. It discussed the backwards ways that NCLB tends to work against school systems in impoverished communities, replacing diligent staff and taking away funding from schools that fail to meet outsider estimations of yearly improvement. Also portrayed was the impact of sports on students, and students’ interaction with poverty, violence, and crime.
The discussion that followed was really the more engaging portion of the night. Present were Katy Arnett and Terri Filbert, both professors of Educational Studies, as well as student panelists Caroline Szendey and Heber Diaz. The panelists sparked an enthusiastic discussion after the film about the state of the public school system in the U.S. The demographic of the attendees made for an interesting forum, as based on a quick raise of hands at the opening of discussion, nearly 100% of the crowd went to public school, and the breakup amongst them was pretty evenly split between urban, rural, and suburban school districts.
The locality of the setting made the documentary feel close to home—some students attending came from the D.C. school system themselves. Senior Heber Diaz said he remembered the craze at his school to prepare for the DC CAS, having entire classes devoted to test prep. Other students, some from other Maryland counties (which include some of the richest school districts in the nation), some from as far as the New Orleans public school system, offered their insight on the state of education in the U.S.
Among the topics discussed were the problems with how education policy is funded in the U.S. (based off local property tax, which can lead to rampant discrimination in low income areas), the over-reliance on standardized testing, and the misguided changes made by reformers that expect educators to make up for the problems caused by poverty. During discussion Professor Arnett emphatically listed the differences between the U.S. and the countries that outrank us in education: “They have less poverty, they have more social safety nets, and they have longer school hours and school years.”
The event appealed mostly to students studying Education, Political Science, and Public Policy, but the discussion was inviting and engaging even for students with only their personal experiences to go off of.
The next film in the Festival series is Dirty Wars, on April 14, followed on April 22 by Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity, with panelists Dan Schell, Leonard Cruz, and Daniel Morris. Each screening will be at 8:15 in the PG common room. The festival promises a rousing and eye opening discussion at every event in the series.