Pop the corn, fill the barrel of soda, and get ready for the next round of the “great education movie.” Last fall, we were all about Waiting for Superman and Race to Nowhere. And while Superman is trying to figure out ways to re-inject itself into the discussion, there are a few new motion pictures that add some real context to the discussion of the 21st century classroom.
The first is “The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System.” From the same folks who brought us Two Million Minutes, Finland Phenomenon tries to look at why we are so fascinated with the educating happening in Northern Europe. If we look at the most recent PISA scores (released at the end of 2010), Finland places third in the world, overall, when looking at reading, math, and science scores. Only Shanghai-China and Korea do better. Through interviews with students, teachers, parents, and government officials, Finland Phenomenon provides some interesting insight into the educational system for a country that most Americans could never find on a map. While it may not be as clear to see how the lessons learned in Finland can be applied here in the United States (that is a common concern, when we talk about how great nations like Korea, Finland, Singapore, and the like are; after all Singapore is basically the size of Kentucky), it does demonstrate what a national commitment to excellence in the classroom can look like.
The second is American Teacher, a new movie produced by The Teacher Salary Project. Narrated by Matt Damon, American Teacher made its West Coast preview earlier this month, and hits Washington, DC next week and New York City right after that. The movie provides an interesting look at the teaching profession, particularly with regard to working conditions and salaries. Looking through the eyes of real teachers and their real lives, American Teacher is almost the “other side” of Superman; for each of those parents wanting good schools for their kids there are good teachers wanting the same for all kids. And The Teacher Salary Project has definitely learned from the Superman phenomenon, building outreach activities, advocacy, and community engagement around the film and its future screenings.
No, they are not Thor, the new Pirates of the Caribbean, or even the sequel to The Hangover. But movies like The Finland Phenomenon and American Teacher are designed to force us to think a little more, a little deeper, and a little differently about education in the United States. Ultimately, it isn’t just about reform, it is about improvement. These two movies show two lines of thinking that need to be factored into the discussion.