Unequal Education Revisited: A Dialogue with Steve Goodman

Jul 22nd, 2014 | By | Category: BLTN Teachers, Issue, Spring 2014, Uncategorized

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On July 18, 2014 Steve Goodman of Educational Video Center (EVC)  in New York visited Bread Loaf’s Vermont campus to share some of the work and methods of EVC youth in developing provocative and thoughtful documentary videos. Following his visit, Steve invites us to join him here in an online dialogue about the final work he showed, “Unequal Education Revisited.”

After viewing the video linked below (use evc120 as password), and reading Steve’s reflections, please join the dialogue via the comments section at the bottom of this page.

If you have trouble entering the discussion, please contact Tom McKenna. Please take some time, too, to review curricular resources and other examples of youth documentary work EVC’s website at http://www.evc.org . For Steve’s account of students making the original “Unequal Education” documentary, see Goodman, Steven.  (1994)”Talking Back: The Portrait of a Student Documentary on School Inequity” in Experiencing Diversity: Toward Educational Equity. California: Corwin Press, Inc..



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Link to Unequal Education Revisited (password required)

Bill Moyers says in the opening to the EVC documentary “Unequal Education Revisited,”

“The gap between rich and poor has rarely been so great in our country.  But in some cases years, even decades pass before the full impact of that vast inequality becomes apparent…. [EVC’s] updated report reveals how the inequities plaguing society– not only in education, but in justice and health care as well, can affect one person’s ability to survive, growing up in an unforgiving system that too often leaves the poor behind.”

Back in 1992, EVC students documented a year in the life for two students showing this inequity in the resources and teaching that poor and middle class students experienced in their two different schools in the same New York City Bronx district. In the followup film, they tell the story of the dehumanizing experiences that one student, Lonnie Smith, had as a gifted and talented 7th grader in school, the violence he witnessed in his Bronx community and later perpetrated himself when he moved south to Virginia,  and his struggles now as a disconnected adult 22 years later searching for affordable housing and the mental health care he needs.

I think this story raises a range of questions including how Lonnie’s life path might have been different if he went to the school in the middle class neighborhood with the greater resources and supports that he needed. The  role of professional development for teachers, and the possibilities and limitations of parental involvement are also raised. On a policy level, it raises questions about what kind of changes are needed on both a structural and individual level to close the achievement gap and the wealth gap and the importance of youth voices in these policy debates. Education philosopher Maxine Greene asks how schools can give students hope in the face of this injustice. She also asks how we can help students regain a sense of visibility, when they feel invisible, or “dead to the world” as Lonnie says at the end of the film. In her followup commentary, Greene prompts us to consider the role of literature. “You know we have to tell the children, there is an alternative. I like to use literature… because I think that literature sometimes shows openings that discursive books don’t show.”

What questions does this film raise for you? What connections would you like to make, and thoughts would you like to make share as part of this dialogue of Bread Loaf teachers?

(Comments are moderated and will appear shortly after being posted.)

3 Comments to “Unequal Education Revisited: A Dialogue with Steve Goodman”

  1. Steve Goodman says:

    I think both David and Lou get it absolutely right. We need as students and educators to remain open to diverse, humanizing narratives and multi-layered readings in texts and in the world around us. And we also need activist students and a grassroots social justice movement that organizes to close the interconnected gaps in wealth, in educational acheivement, and political participaton. As Freire described it, we need an educational praxis engaging our students in authentic dialogue, reflection and action. It was only when my students first spent real time with their cameras documenting Lonnie’s school (much like the schools they had attended), and then documented classes in the Riverdale school, that the inequities and injustice came into real focus for them. And for Lonnie’s mother Liliane, too! Once she saw in the film what a science class could look like with microscopes in them in the “better” schools, she became outraged at the stark differences in the school her children attended. Its the possibility of juxtaposition of images and stories that enabled my students, Liliane, and the viewers to begin to understand something of what race and class means in our school system, and society at large. Then, the juxtaposition across time of 13-year-old Lonnie and 34-year-old Lonnie raises questions about the long term toll inequities in our schools take — zooming in on the personal struggles of a family in crisis and out to the structural isssues underlying a society in crisis. We on the crew were all deeply disturbed at finding out what had become of Lonnie, who we had known as this bright, gifted and talented kid. We could see his growing alienation and anger at his situation even back then. And the seeming indifference in some of his teachers and counsellors. And his struggles as an adolescent to gain visibility and recognition in his schools and even in his home with his mother. Maxine Greene asks us how we as educators and engaged citizens can refuse to accept things as they are, and help our students regain their visibility and humanity. In response to this film, Debbie Meier said she worries that many of us who were born into priviledge need to develop more of a sense of empathy for families like Lonnie’s. Instead, we too often blame the poor for their poverty and dont acknowledge how lucky we are and how unfair things are. (And yet, we would certainly not send our children to a school like Lonnie attended and would flee from a community where he lived.) I think it comes back to seeing the interconnected and multilayered stories of our students and their families and communities, their histories and their futures; holding on to a respect and sense of empathy for them and their struggles; and an anger and outrage at the conditions, the elites and the larger system; and somehow also holding onto a sense of hope, resilience and determination to take acton in the face of it all.

  2. David Wandera says:

    In the Bakhtinian sense where everything has a history and where we come to a text (including the multimodal text presented in both this video and in Steve’s workshop at Bread Loaf) with an implicated hearer-listener, for me, watching this video and reflecting on the workshop, and then zooming out to think of the local level of meanings which some of the key terms (“access,” “poverty,” “justice/injustice,” etc.) carry, I wonder whether we see more than one story being told. I imagine that in an interconnected world there are several possibilities for ways that meaning is proposed, recognized and gets taken up etc. In such a multilayered reading, the pursuit for healthy foods (as one example from the workshop) becomes more than just a quest for health (since as we have learned from initiatives such as the Navajo-Kentuckians project here at Bread Loaf that food is not just food). Culture, heritage, personhood and a whole sense of world-mediation are implicated and entailed in food; that is if we consider the ways communities eat, the what-is-eaten, etc. Perhaps we can consider how the pursuit of healthy foods and a healthy diet ought to be informed by humanizing processes which acknowledges and affirms the individual while recognizing multifaceted narratives of “good eating”. In the same manner then, we might also need to have a conversation on the various narratives that emanate from Lonnie’s story which raises points, counterpoints (and then some) about the role of education (broadly defined) and socialization in a pluralistic world.

  3. Lou Bernieri says:

    It seems to me we need to do two things. We need a grassroots social justice movement that will force political, judicial and economic elites to stop their
    neoliberal assault on the US and world populations. As long as they have the power to immiserate the majority of the world for their own profit and power, they will continue to do so. At the educational level, I think we
    also need a grassroots movement that joins students, teachers, and the
    community in community organizing for educational reform. Until communities take back their educational systems from elites, these communities will continue to be exploited and their educational systems destroyed, to be replaced by crippled systems and for-profit schools. Activist students, I believe, are the key to
    this work. There are millions of them and once given the chance to join the struggle for social justice, most will eagerly hop on the bus. At a pedagogical
    level, democratic, student-driven methods that give youth agency and freedom
    are the key to enfranchising and empowering youth. This dry, intellectual response to the powerful video and Steve’s questions does not belie the fact that any sentient human being’s response to the video is fury and anger at the profound cruelty and injustice of elites who control our economy, our education system and much of our lives. While they live in their gated mansions, take vacations in the Alps and Cancun, send their children to tony private schools where upwards of 60,70, 80 k per year is spent on each student, and drive cars that cost more than many people’s houses, the youth and adults in these videos endure enormous and uneccessary suffering, hopelessness and death. Many kudos to Steve and EVC. Their pedagogy as well as their productions are models for all of us to learn from.

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