6 Films About Education for All

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A young Chinese boy, maybe ten years old, sits on a low stool, working intensively on an electrical device attached to an old decaying structure.

Too soon for some, and not soon enough for others. Besides “I Love You”, which three words provoke more emotion than “Back to School”?

BTS (not the boy band)!

Rarely have three letters meant so much to so many. BTS means sales on pencils and backpacks BTS means professional development days for teachers who were just getting used to having some time off. BTS means cries of relief from parents who have exhausted themselves juggling childcare–because most businesses don’t close for summer. And of course, BTS means buying new shoes.

Whatever BTS means to you, let us not forget that it represents one of our most important social contracts –making education available for all. That is quite a mission, one which we continually endeavor to more fully realize.

Despite the misgivings and criticisms many have about (public) education, we want to take a minute to acknowledge teachers, administrators, and students–those dreamers who will perform the miracle of transforming textbooks into a radically different future.

This month we look at a few films that explore what it means to make education available for all. You can also browse more films in our Education Studies collection.

25 Texans in the Land of Lincoln
By Ellen Brodsky, 2019, 33mins

Twenty-five history students travel from the Alamo to Springfield, Illinois to build a Day of the Dead altar honoring Lincoln’s support of Mexico, and ask a museum to return Santa Anna’s prosthetic leg. With humor, humility, and animated history lessons, these students, mostly Mexican-American, raise questions of identity, borders, museum ethics, and collective memory.

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Creating Gender Inclusive Schools
By Jonathan Skurnik, 2016, 21mins

What happens when you bring gender training to a public elementary school? In Creating Gender Inclusive Schools the Peralta Elementary School in Oakland, CA demonstrates the power of an open and honest conversation about gender.

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Deej
By Robert Rooy, 2017, 53mins

DJ Savarese (“Deej”) is a nonspeaking young autistic who dreams of college and communicates via text-to-voice synthesizer, and here via documentary and poetry in collaboration with director Robert Rooy. Filmed in a one-of-a-kind partnership over six years, “Deej takes several masterful steps forward in inclusive filmmaking.” [Peabody Award jury, 2017]

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English Hustle (New!)
By Charles Abelman, 2023, 32mins

English Hustle explores the complexities of the multibillion dollar English online tutoring industry through personal stories with insights from academic experts on Chinese education, history, and foreign affairs. The film explores the power of cultural connections, highlighting the challenging gig work the teachers endured during a financial and political upheaval.

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Try Harder!
By Debbie Lum and Un Kyong Ho, 2022, 85mins

Lowell High School is the top-ranked public high school in San Francisco – and the seniors are stressed out. As they prepare for the emotionally draining college application process, students are keenly aware of the intense competition for the few open spots in their dream schools. A New York Times Critics’ Pick, Try Harder! takes us into the alarming reality of the American college application process and the intersection of class, race, and educational opportunity as experienced by five diverse high school seniors living through it.

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Under the Same Sky
By Yoyo Li, 2018, 19mins

In 2014, the Chinese government started a new national campaign on equal elementary education, but at the same time strengthened the residential registration system to segregate the rural and urban areas. Through this observational documentary we watch as class and regional lines collide to debunk the Chinese propaganda about equality.

Under the Same Sky reveals the striking disparities between rural and city education in China as we watch two boys from two different backgrounds attend school.

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