“TEACHED” Documentaries Offer Glossy Propaganda

David Cohen:

I recently attended a screening of “TEACHED,” a trio of short films marketed as documentaries but in truth, rather superficial looks at three important topics in education. The screening was organized by some graduate student groups at Stanford, open to the public but mostly attended by grad students in education, law, and business. According to a brochure I picked up at the screening, TEACHED has as part of its mission to “Analyze the causes and the consequences of the ‘achievement gap’ between students of color and their peers,” but I’m sorry to say that these films offered very little analysis, certainly nothing that would advance a serious policy discussion or aid the work of graduate students.
The first short was called “The Path to Prison” and it tackled the links among illiteracy, dropping out of school, crime and incarceration. Highlighting statistics about the rate of incarceration in the United States, especially for youth who drop out of high school, and especially for young African-American males, the film used the story of one young man, Jerone, to illustrate the issues. Jerone was moved from grade to grade without learning enough to succeed, and looking back, identifies a number of problems in his schooling, including disaffected, alcoholic, and racist teachers. He relates that his needs “went unrecognized, my issues went unchecked.” Jerone was a gang member at age thirteen, and locked up by age seventeen. Finally, in prison, Jerone seems to have developed some skills and discipline, and at the time he’s talking to the filmmakers, he’s describing how hard it is to find a decent job now that he has a record. At the end of the film, text on the screen informs us that Jerone is now back in prison, serving a term of forty-to-life.