Home > Education, World4Children > While US waits for Superman, kids in the world are drafted as failures

While US waits for Superman, kids in the world are drafted as failures

UPDATE: Schooling the World is now available for purchase on DVD! The profit will be donated to nonprofit groups concerned with rethinking education and cultural survival. http://schoolingtheworld.org/film/store/

Today, I watched a profoundly disturbing film! It completely shattered my view of education as a progressive force in the world — even if the system in place is seriously outdated, I never really questioned the intrinsic value of education as a way out of poverty, as a way to move humanity into their future. Director Carol Black and the Lost People Films crew disillusioned me in the first 10 minutes of their fantastic film — Schooling the World: The White Man’s Last Burden — and I had trouble dealing with all of the mixed thoughts and emotions throughout the rest of the film!

Before this film, my understanding of the state of the education could be related to a story I heard long time ago from my parents.

A man was visiting a long time friend quite often for dinner and often his friend’s wife would cook fish for the occasion. Initially, he didn’t give much thought to the fact that the fish had its head and tail cut off. After a while, though, he noticed that the family never served a whole fish, so he decided to inquire the wife. “I never really gave too much thought to it — this is how my mum always cooked fish, so I continued to do the same,” she said.

This troubled the man so he asked if they can ask the wife’s mum? “This is how my mum taught me when I was a young girl,” she said “I always thought she must have had some reason for that!” Surprisingly, the old grandma was still alive, so the man, still troubled with the question why this family never ate the fish’s head and tail asked if he can be brought to the old lady.

“Honestly, I didn’t have any bigger pan in the house, so I would cut the tail and head to fit the fish inside for frying,” the granny said! ;-)

The current education system was devised during the start of the industrialization, more than 200 years ago. It’s purpose was to create skilled workers that could take specialized jobs and work in the factories. Just like in the story, though, I thought what happened to the education system in more recent years was that a bigger frying pan is now available, but no one thought about stopping the practice of cutting the fish’s head and tail!

In the developed countries, most of the factories are gone, more people than ever work in services and a great level of innovation and creativity is required by most modern companies. However, the education system still produces people that can do specialized jobs — or worse, tries to generalize their knowledge to such a level that it is useless at that point. As Sir Ken Robinson has been pointing for some time now, school kills creativity — and creativity is the very resource we need more to ensure a bright future of our kids!

Schooling the World has shown me that this view is limited in itself! In the developing countries — and even certain communities in developed countries like US — industrialization is still lagging or simply the way of life in the community doesn’t mesh well with the ideas brought by it. But the same aging education system is brought there by well-intentioned missionaries, aid workers and volunteers thinking they’re doing a great service to the indigenous people in those areas. No one questions the common sense that education is the way out of poverty. No one, that is, except Carol Black and the thinkers featured in Schooling the World!

If I would try to use the fish story as a metaphor to the eye-opening view this film has brought to me, it would go something like this:

Disturbed by what he learned from the old lady, the man was about to leave his friend’s house when the daughter just arrived. She was all excited about a great deed she just did as part of her school project. Her class was assigned to visit the slums in the poverty-stricken part of their city and find a way to help a family there for one day. Remembering the dinner recipes from her mum, the girl decided to buy a fish on the way there and offer it for dinner to a family with four kids. She was so happy for coming up with the idea, she also tried to explain to the wife there how to cut the head and tail before cooking it, as that is how her mum always does!

The man felt a bit better, feeling silly about his questioning of the family around the fish, so he thanked them all for the great dinner and headed out to his car. On the way home, one of the streets was closed due to an accident, so he ended up driving trough the slums. He was quite surprised to see a pack of cats gathering around a big fish on the street. Looking closely, he noticed the fish was missing its head and tail! It was all great that the family was brought a fish to cook for dinner, but what they needed was a pan and a working oven to prepare it!

As Carol said in the introduction to the screening of Schooling the World at the Vancouver International Film Festival, the goal of the film is not to provide answers — in this case there are probably no right or wrong answers, just different ones — but rather to inspire questions. Sir Ken seemed to agree with that, when he tweeted to his followers “Take a quiet look at this movie and think about the questions it asks” after I brought it to his attention. (digression: I learned about the film by accident after a friend whom I met over the weekend during a child birthday party thought I would be interested in it — she had no idea how much I would indeed!)

Indeed, the film raises a lot of important questions. Just to give you an idea of some, take a look at this short clip about imposing English as the language of the world to kids in Ladakh, India, the main location where this film is shot. This is very disturbing to me — especially as I personally struggle around the questions how much should I help my own kids keep a bit of their own language and culture (Macedonian) as we’re trying to build our life in Canada!

I was lucky enough to be able to film the Q&A after the screening. I invite you to check the discussion at http://www.youtube.com/user/World4Children#p/c/8561575F4F78F9F4 — it is very engaging! Apologies in advance for the low quality of the audio and he moving camera from time to time! ;-)

I want to end this article with a thought on my own:

Waiting for Superman is raising important questions around the public school system in the US — which can easily be extrapolated to many other countries in the developed world. This is stirring lots of debate among teachers, unions, policy makers, the media, etc., which is great! Unfortunately, Schooling the World teaches us that an education system imposed on a community is still a broken system that is drafting kids as failures. Carol has a personal story to share on this topic as part of the Q&A (you can jump to minute 4:15 below)!

My question, then, is why everyone is still blind to the truth that no policy or system can be successful if the people it is intended for — those that are supposed to benefit from it! — are excluded from the discussion how to shape it?

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  1. October 26, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    UPDATE: Schooling the World is now available for purchase on DVD! The profit will be donated to nonprofit groups concerned with rethinking education and cultural survival. http://schoolingtheworld.org/film/store/

  2. October 14, 2010 at 9:06 am

    “In the developed countries, most of the factories are gone, more people than ever work in services and a great level of innovation and creativity is required by most modern companies. However, the education system still produces people that can do specialized jobs — or worse, tries to generalize their knowledge to such a level that it is useless at that point.” I think you are mistaken. I don’t think companies have ever wanted more than “able-bodied and ‘willing’ (desperate, if possible) workers”, except from the managerial class where they expect these people to find ever new ways to 1/ spend less on workers and 2/ make more money. This makes the education system necessary only to the extent that the managerial class members must be replaced occasionally (due to death, illness, retirement, etc.) and to train the employable to be able to do the tasks assigned by the managerial class. That this training diverts a lot of the creative ability of people into the muted, “Satanic mill” tasks of business is of equal importance: too many creative people running around might allow the thought to take hold that the upper classes do not actually deserve the disproportionate amount of the earth’s resources they currently wield. This gives the term “education”, once value-neutral, a sinister, value-laden meaning, one not for the benefit of the many, but of the few.
    “In… developing countries — and even certain communities in developed countries like US — industrialization is still lagging or simply the way of life in the community doesn’t mesh well with the ideas brought by it.” One point of the movie is to demonstrate that the industrial model is flawed, not that it is “lagging” or not living up to it’s promise of relentless progress. The flaw is revealed in many ways (pollution, lack of social cohesion, greed, unsustainability, loss of biodiversity, worldwide water shortages, etc.) one of which is the education model that churns out “willing workers” for an unsustainable industrial model. Indeed, the only way we in industrialized nations are able to maintain the level of life we currently enjoy is by denying the ability of the vast majority of the world to ever enjoy anything approaching it. Is this the way humans are or is it the way we were groomed to be? If it is not in our nature to be uncaring then it must be something we learned (or some mix of the two). I think it is mainly learned. The answer to “Who taught us to be like this?” is, of course, multi-faceted. One group is the elites that wish to “keep us in our place” (to use that quaint Britishism) while allowing enough of us to enjoy enough of the money-wealth created to not rise up against them. Another is the managerial class that obtains a larger part of the money-wealth than the bulk of workers. It is in this way in their direct interest to maintain the current system. Lastly, our own weak, frightened complicity in maintaining this system is also necessary. As we are an unruly lot sometimes, and for fear of our rising up against the upper classes, the police and military, which are the private standing armies of property owners as defined by legislation, are also necessary workers. Quite an arrangement isn’t it? As sophisticated as any indigenous people’s systems I’ve ever heard of. Which brings me to the last point I will make.
    When Wade Davis in the movie said that while he respected the right of people to defend and carry on their traditions in their cultures, he would not want to be treated by a shaman if he were involved in a car accident with many injuries, he was exhibiting his own cultural entrapment. He, by saying this, is claiming the extension of life, beyond when it biologically should end, is a good thing. Is this a “natural” thing or a learned one? I am not so sure this extending of life is a good thing. Maybe it is better to die when one has received a massive trauma. Better for the sustainability of one’s culture as well as for the dignity of the individual. The pain of loss is going to come sooner or later. Why not when at such times? Why use so much of our resources avoiding it at such times?
    I really enjoyed talking with you at the film showing and as we walked. I hope these thoughts do not rankle you enough to terminate our budding friendship.

    • kima
      October 14, 2010 at 10:15 pm

      Thanks John for checking out my blog! It was great meeting you at VIFF and I enjoyed chatting with you too!

      While I may be milder than you in expressing my views over the flaws of the Western education system or even industrialization, I actually think we do share some ;-)

      On the other hand, I won’t be happy if I just agree with people who may be like-minded as disagreement on important points can lead to opening new perspectives on things … I guess the term for it is creative tension

      My main issue with your view of companies only wanting “able-bodied and ‘willing’ (desperate, if possible) workers” comes from the perspectives of technology start-ups or creative “shops”. The first have learned that they can only succeed if they gather very intelligent and self-driven individuals who can think out of the box and make their own decisions on various points as they build a product with the rest of the team. The latter are seeking for artistic abilities, highly intuitive and creative people.

      As I suppose you would agree, none of these abilities are encouraged or fostered in the education system we know. On the other hand, if you say that these kinds of companies are too little in the developing world, you’ll probably be right, but if the traditional industrialization is failing the people there, it’s not impossible that some entrepreneurs will try to reinvent the economy there, in which case the damage done by the examples of schools presented in Schooling the World will become all too apparent!

      I am still digesting the questions raised by the movie and talking to many people both online and offline to try and make a sense of it … maybe we’ll need to unearth a huge pile of questions before we can turn into seeking for solutions, though! :-(

  3. October 13, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    As a child growing up in rural Canada, I had my own little Internet in the countryside – full of families from many different European countries. (I just posted a three part story titled “Someone’s Living in the Bush, Mom” where I address this wonderful informal education I experienced.) I learned so much from my friends of other cultures that my adult travel experience has meant uncovering familiar words, food, practices, etc. as I wallow in the cultures.

    I love the idea that my country embraces the concept of people from other nations coming to Canada, respecting our culture and maintaining theirs so as to teach us. I have friends who do that and though I leave what is theirs to them, I know I am welcome to participate as much as I feel I can.

    For years I worked in the Financial Management of Education in BC. Thus, I worked with Educators at various levels; working hand and glove with the Superintendents. Educators, which includes the Curriculum side of the Ministry of Education, are by and large, unwilling to accept that anyone but an educator has the ability to give a valuable opinion about curricula. I experienced an elitist attitude in various levels of education. And there is an ironic twist to this. Teachers would tell me that they are considered the “low end of the totem pole” in terms of professions. They told me that people insinuated that they were not capable of any other profession so they became teachers.

    I am a bit suspicious that this is perpetuated by teachers themselves – rather than various fields within Universities, as some claim. However, I don’t know – have no scientific proof of that! Nevertheless, I have wondered if this attitude has fed the elitist “hands off” attitude regarding who decides what content will be in school curricula.

    Thankfully, the world is becoming so small that our oneness/connectedness is going to become more and more prevalent. That’s not to say we ignore our roots. Not at all, but we will be seeing more and more of the similarities that reside in our souls.

    Hope I haven’t bored you. I need to start a rule for myself. No writing after 8:00 pm! :)

    • kima
      October 13, 2010 at 11:09 pm

      Thanks Amy for taking the time to read my post and comment!

      I am not at all bored to read about your experience with the educators in BC. I find it very informative as I am working with the organizers of TEDxUBC (http://tedxubc.com) to run a TED-like conference in Vancouver focused around the future of education and I hope to have discussions with educators as well as enthusiasts trying to change the system.

      I think Schooling the World comes at the right time as even though Canada would fit on the Western side of the export of education from the developed to the developing countries, there are still indigenous or traditional communities within Canada itself and the questions that this film raises are probably as important for them as they’re for some of the developing countries.

      As the film suggests at the end, no one should claim they know the answers around education. Instead, we need to start a discussion and, crucially, involve the local communities to participate in shaping a system that works for them. If some educators are not comfortable to open their doors to non-educators to tell them what is broken and question the value of the changes they’re proposing, they have the choice to stay out!

      • October 26, 2010 at 4:49 am

        Kima, Amy MacLeod (Souldipper) had given me this video clipping asking me to share it with you.. :) The guy talks about Public Education system here and I actually love the video for his drawing capabilities ;) That is what makes it engrossing too.. !! Check it out at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U&feature=player_embedded

        • October 26, 2010 at 12:38 pm

          Thanks Rachana!

          Sir Ken is my personal hero when it comes to transforming education ;-) We screened this video last Saturday during TEDxUBC, an event bringing speakers to discuss the future of education that I got involved in to help with the organization. I hope to post something about the experience soon ;-)

          Btw, Youtube is misbehaving on me and I am not able to post a comment to the link you sent me to refer people to Schooling the World and my article … can you try if you’re of better luck? … I read somewhere that there are problems with Canadian ISPs, which doesn’t sound right to me but who knows?!

          • October 29, 2010 at 4:59 am

            I can try! Did you want something specific there, maybe a link to your blog? Let me know if you would like to do that..

  4. October 13, 2010 at 10:14 am

    I forgot my earphones, so cannot hear the girl yet :( But, I love the fish story, I might actually have a few stories of blind following of my own.. Too lazy to figure something out by myself?!
    Kima, thank you for taking your personal time to find out what her intentions were with the movie! During my days in college during the turn of the millenium, my Science and Engineering text books were from the 60’s and the 70’s, and now my work as a data analyst has nothing to do with my education! Of course, this area of work is a choice that I consiously made, because I did not see myself as an Electrical Engineer by profession :)
    I wish you luck with your endevours, I will do my best to spread the word!
    Thanks!
    Rachana.

    • kima
      October 13, 2010 at 10:59 pm

      Thanks Rachana! There are many examples of people succeeding DESPITE their education. Sir Ken Robinson has a nice list in his book, The Element ;-)

      With all due respect to my own professors at University, probably not unlike you, I can’t make a significant correlation between my education and my career, or more importanly — my life! There is one exception, though, as my post-graduate studies have given me few opportunities to broaden some of my views and gain some knowledge that shaped some of the approach I took later in my career.

      Still, until watching Schooling the World it never occurred to me to question the assumption that education is a progressive force and that bringing an education system in a poor community would help them get out of poverty. As we’re questioning the value of the aging education system, something that Waiting for Superman very vividly brought to the public, I am now accepting that we should question the value of a generic education system, no matter how advanced and revolutionary, that is exported to all places in the world!

      • October 14, 2010 at 10:53 am

        Wow, Kima, don’t know what to add, don’t even have two cents worth, except that I enjoyed reading all the comments, you all seem to have a goal in life, I don’t even know what I am going to be doing 5 years from now!! Gosh, there is so much of learning for me to do :)

  1. January 18, 2011 at 10:24 pm
  2. November 8, 2010 at 11:44 pm
  3. October 13, 2010 at 2:04 am

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