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Her Future's So Bright She's Gotta Wear Sunglasses

| 2 Comments

ED in ’08, the national campaign to bring education to the forefront of the presidential campaigns, has gotten some attention lately for struggling to make headway in its efforts to make improving public schools a top campaign issue. (Read the EdWeek story here, and blog items here and here.) Yesterday, in fact, I suggested that the group could take a more aggressive stand on education issues if it wanted to gain traction.

That may happen if a new documentary, produced by Broken Pencil Productions in partnership with ED in ’08, generates some serious attention.

The trailer for "Two Million Minutes," (below) is without doubt, provocative. It deliberately and effectively paints a picture of the prevailing stereotypes from two education worlds—one in the United States, and the other in Asia. According to the documentary, American students are getting passed by in the global race for admission to the best universities and the good jobs that follow. The film—or at least the trailer—has a certain Inconvenient Truth-iness about it, since it shares many of the same qualities as Al Gore's environmental documentary, which sounded alarm bells on global warming.

The movie purports to illustrate the problems facing the American education system, and its youth, through the stories of six high school students—two each from the United States, China, and India—whose futures will be shaped by the millions of minutes they spend in high school. The differences among these students are stark and will inevitably spark controversy. ED in '08 will sponsor screenings of the documentary around the country, beginning in January.

The two American students are from the affluent Indianapolis suburb of Carmel, Indiana. While 17-year-old Brittany Brechbuhl, who boasts a 3.9 GPA, talks of college in terms of joining a sorority, partying, and doing some “crazy” stuff, a peer in India describes American students as living a dream, with virtually “no studying.” While Brittany tries on sunglasses in her free time, 17-year-old Hu Xiaoyaun of China says she plays the violin, does her school work, and tries to never waste time.

In another scene, 17-year-old Rohit Sridharan of India describes how he could do math problems even when he was very young. Then, in an effort to question the rigor in American classrooms, viewers see a U.S. teacher giving a pop quiz to high school students. The quiz is on calculators, of all things.

The filmmakers are clearly making a point by drawing distinctions between the (perceived) high standards and serious attitudes that pervade the education systems of Asia with the (perceived) partying and carefree attitudes of sunglass-wearing students in American schools. The problems facing many American high schools are tremendous—high dropout rates, lackluster academic standards, and an achievement gap between minority and nonminority students. But it will interesting to see the entire movie, because my guess is that Brittany (who wants to be a doctor) has a serious side to her, while the students in India and China, like any teenagers, take time to have fun, too.

2 Comments

I'll be the first to admit the trailer for the film is a little damning, but it certainly generates interest, which is what it's there for. The actual film isn't so selective in what sides of us it shows- Brittany does have a serious side (though it might be watching Grey's Anatomy while studying) and Rohit does like to have fun (though it might be singing in a boy band and playing chess).
One thing the film does best is not giving any answers - it leaves that up to the viewer. I've heard a lot of mixed responses to the film, and luckily most have favored me positively, but I suppose that's more of a personal concern. And after all, this is two weeks of six students of three countries - hardly representative of every last American.
Thanks for taking interest in the film - I highly encourage you to see it when you can.

-neil

I agree completely with Neil. The trailer frames the typical cultural/educational stereotypes for a reason - to generate some debate and controversy over concerning the film. At a glance, Neil and I both portray the typical American stereotype but I believe we are both fairly accomplished. I think life is a balance - balance between work and play, school and partying. If you can do it both and still be successful, more power to you! :D

Anyways, the film really does address a very up-coming and highly-debated topic. Anyone who has the slightest interest in the documentary should definitely take a look. :]

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