It's no secret that education has become one of today's hottest issues. With that status, it has also become a popular documentary topic.
Bully and Waiting For Superman are probably the two films that instantly come to mind for many, but no fewer than 18 ed docs have been released since the former debuted in 2011. This year in particular saw a slew of interesting films, dealing largely with other current issues impacting education — namely student loan debt, immigration reform, and the focus on how some Southern schools are resegregating 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education.
Here's a look at five of our favorites from 2014, with trailers where available.
5. The Graduates
Presented over two nights on PBS, The Graduates, a bilingual documentary produced by Quiet Pictures, follows six Hispanic students in the US as they face issues confronting them, their families, educators, and community leaders. The teenagers, three girls and three boys, are from a variety of communities across the nation — ranging from Chicago's South Side and the Bronx to Lawrence, MA — and deal with obstacles including teen pregnancy and undocumented status. Ultimately, the students must learn to take their futures into their own hands and engage their communities.
4. The New Public
Jyllian Gunther's The New Public follows the founding of Brooklyn Community Arts and Media high school in 2006, chronicling the struggles of the educators behind it, as well as the parents and students. It is split into two parts, "Freshman Year" and "Senior Year," and sees the school's founders face doubts as only 30 of the 60 students remaining from its founding class of 104 are on track to graduate. Ultimately, it deals with the socio-cultural issues of an urban education environment and what ultimately defines the success of a student or school.
3. Unschooled: The Film
In this 25-minute documentary, Greater Good founding editor Jason Marsh chronicled the "unschooling" practice embraced by the film's three subject families. Essentially, the process shuns any sort of formal education framework in favor of allowing the child's own interests to help them find and learn the life skills they need. Marsh takes an unbiased look at the approach's pros and cons, and the age range of the kids covered — from 5 to 22 — allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions about the efficacy of being "unschooled."
2. Frontline: Separate & Unequal
With this year's 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education came a number of reports that hundreds of districts across the nation are essentially resegregating. In July, PBS' Frontline examined the phenomenon in a 30-minute special, Separate & Unequal. The documentary focuses on how a push by families in Baton Rouge, LA, to create a separate school district is disenfranchising black students.
1. Ivory Tower
With Ivory Tower, filmmaker Andrew Rossi tackles the nation's massive student loan debt problem. While the documentary could have easily focused on what's wrong with the current system's business model, it also spotlights programs at Stanford, Spelman, and Deep Springs that it sees as doing things right. Ultimately, however, it all comes back to the question of what happens if higher ed can't innovate and provide a better model.
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