Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Everyone Should Watch "Country Boys" on Frontline

I've been just watching and listening all day. I don't know how I became so passive, but I wasn't working. I listened to the Alito hearings all afternoon, ran errands listening to a book on tape, then finally started watching that new Frontline Documentary, Country Boys, which is airing on PBS this week, and can be watched in its entirety online. It really is well-done and thought provoking. The folks over at Southern Exposure like it too. The documentary depicts Appalachian culture and rural poverty in a way that maintains the dignity of the subjects. It is also a window, perhaps, into what some might refer to as "red state America" where people who are hurt by current administration policies are nonetheless deeply conservative, at least that's how it seems after watching the first hour.

I must say that while I am completely engaged by both the boys, I am not as wild about the "David School," as many viewers seem to be, judging from viewers' comments in Frontline's discussion forum. It is an alternative high school with a religious foundation and a deep dedication to its students. During the documentary, you see one of the boys, Chris, get a huge amount of support in his effort to start a school newspaper. you also see Cody, the more emotionally disturbed boy, have a very empathic disciplinary meeting with the principal following a conflict with his history teacher. This is all to the good.
Rarely do students get this kind of personal attention in any setting, and the small scale and dedication at the David School for this reason are invaluable. At the same time, can we not also demand that for students like Chris and Cody that they have a science teacher who's willing to teach evolution and doesn't dismiss the whole discussion of reproductive technology and cloning with the comment, "don't mess with God's creation?" Other classes depicted in the documentary were less alarming, but I think this kind of miseducation is just a crime, and I was surprised to see no one mentioned it on the Frontline forum.
While it is important to support and help students, it would help if the teachers were qualified to teach the subject matter in addition to being a group of supportive people who acted as a second family. It is probably because the second thing is such a bigger and more difficult task, and has such immediate and direct results in the lives of individuals that it gets all the attention, but I wonder what Chris and Cody will know - about science, history, and all those "school" things when they graduate. I recognize that there is more to education than "book learning," and that "book learning" was probably promoted too much in my family for me to have a balanced perspective on the issue, but it troubles me that academic challenges seemed to disappear all together at the David School, and that the material discussed in the classes was often simplistic or just wrong. Would many of the middle-class viewers who praised the school teachers as heroes for doing the hard work of being nice to Cody and Chris be happy to send their own "best and bright" teenagers there? Should Cody, who likes to cite various statistics and facts in his classes ever find a teacher that will challenge him to defend his ideas and facts more fully or to discuss their meanings in greater depth? Cody, who sings in a Christian heavy metal band, at one point tells his friends that the "government" owns about 30% of the US land, (I checked this and it turns out to be about 21% if you include the national parks) and he follows that with some not-so-well-thought-out anti-government comments. When he made a similar comment in class about the new attempts to make it possible for men to give birth, the teacher had never heard of what he was talking about and couldn't engage in a meaningful discussion of it. Wouldn't it be nice if the teachers in the school were qualified to actually discuss these issues with students instead of just talking about God ,teaching them to respect other people, and come to class on time? What does it tell students when their teachers are so unable to respond to their intellectual curiosity or to take up their challenges? I'm sure it left a confrontational and restless kid like Cody bored and ready for 1/2 baked theories.
I'll have to wait to see the rest of the series, but I'm guessing that Cody's provocative questions will not be embraced as part of his maturation process, and i think that would be a pity. It's essential to repsond to emotional needs, but a school that fails to respond to intellectual needs is ultimately bad for us all politically. So far, what I saw in "Country Boys" doesn't make me feel hopeful in the long run.


Anonymous said...

Hey! I know you mostly write about the NYC labor issues like the subway strike but what do you think about this week's extensive LA Times series on the UFW?

" --
Chavez's heirs run a web of tax-exempt organizations that exploit his legacy and invoke the harsh lives of farmworkers to raise millions of dollars in public and private money.

The money does little to improve the lives of California farmworkers, who still struggle with the most basic health and housing needs and try to get by on seasonal, minimum-wage jobs.

Most of the funds go to burnish the Chavez image and expand the family business, a multimillion-dollar enterprise with an annual payroll of $12 million that includes a dozen Chavez relatives."

reb said...

didn't know about it, so thanks for posting. I'll read up and come up with an opinion soon, I'm sure.