American Promise: Save Our Black Boys from Education Failure
1 year ago
Two parents take matters into their own hands to document how black boys fare in school
The right to a good education has fueled some parents to take drastic measures.
Tanya McDowell is facing 12 years for lying about her residence in order to send her six-year-old son to a better school. Some parents opt to homeschool. Others go into Ivy League college debt in order to send their child to a top elementary school.
For parents and filmmakers Michele Stephenson and Joe Brewster, they decided to pick up a camera and document their son's entire educational career. From kindergarten to 12th grade, their son Idris and his friend Seun Summers have been the stars of a documentary that looks at a growing achievement gap in the American school system and how black boys fare in the classroom. Especially when they attend The Dalton School, listed by Forbes as one of the "top 20 best prep schools in the country."
Now, as Idris and Seun prepare to graduate from high school in the coming months and filming draws to an end, the real work begins. Stephenson and Brewster have launched a kickstarter campaign to help raise funds for their film "American Promise." With over 1,000 hours of footage they have an enormous amount of editing before them, but assure that the bigger lift is make this independent documentary a catalyst for a national discourse on how to improve our educational system as it relates to students of color.
Their concerns over the achievement gap were further validated Tuesday when the Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Education released startling data about the differences between the way black students and white students are taught and disciplined in schools. In a survey of 72,000 schools, it was found that while black students made up only 18% of those enrolled in the schools sampled, they accounted for 35% of those suspended once, 46% of those suspended more than once and 39% of all expulsions.
Loop 21 talked to the filmmakers about their personal experience and their hopes for the film.
Loop 21: Twelve years ago you decided to pick up a camera and film your son and his friend's experience at a private, predominately white school and explore how they were taught and treated. Would you have done the same if they went to a black school?
Joe Brewster: I’m not sure but I know more now than I did then. We didn’t understand the African-America achievement gap in 1998. We went in as filmmakers. The filmmaker's hate says "We are in an environment we do not know and we are moving in uncharted territory. Let's turn the camera on."
Michele Stephenson: We didn't go into the school wanting from the start to document. We're filmmakers. We saw that the academic possibilities were limitless really, for our son. We started the project exploring diversity with four characters – the two boys Idris and Seun and two girls. However the girls left the project [and we] were left with a focused situation where we were tracking the coming of age of two black boys against the statistics we saw.
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Loop 21: Dalton is prestigious and known to be a very guarded, as far as dealing with media, their public image, etc. What is their take on this documentary?