Voices in Education

Overcoming Obstacles to Education – A Universal Challenge

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September 15, 2016

This article is the last in a series of four blog posts featuring programs from PBS’ Spotlight Education week of educational programming. In this installment, former PBS Digital Innovator Michael Hernandez shares his thoughts and reactions following an advance screening of "Time for School”. "Time for School” airs tonight on PBS stations nationwide. Check your local listings. You can also follow the conversation on Twitter using #SpotlightEduPBS and #TeachBoldly.

Kids afraid of going to school because of gang violence. Girls pressured by their family to stay home to take care of the family. A single mom who wants her son to have a better life.

These are all stories of children struggling to get an education while obstacles stand in their way.  And while any of these stories might be those of a kid on the Southside of Chicago or South LA, these are actually true stories from children around the world, featured in the new PBS documentary Time for School.

Like a 'Hoop Dreams' for education, the film follows students from five countries for 12 years as they struggle to get an education in the face of war, poverty and the pull of cultural priorities. The result of this longitudinal documentary is a portrait not only of these individual children, but the challenges faced by students and educators around the world -- a universal tale of the desire to learn and the obstacles faced by everyone in the education system.

The stories span from Afghanistan to Brazil, from India to Kenya. While the particulars may change, I found it striking how similar the challenges faced by these students and parents are to those in the U.S. The girls in the film struggle with cultural expectations of taking care of the house, serving their families and marrying young. The boys lack male role models, or are pressured to pursue an easier path of a life of crime.

It’s easy to forget these things -- that life is what affects and holds people most, not school. And when a student is absent or has trouble focusing, chances are it’s because of something happening at home.  As teachers, we often forget that behavior problems or poor performance aren’t just because of a character flaw or because a student lacks grit. This documentary helps us remember that our students really do want to learn and that they face many social obstacles that can keep them from doing their best.

I’ve always believed that storytelling can help build empathy and understanding between people. Time for School does just that. It creates space for parents, educators and the political elite to see the other side of our students and recognize the humanity of their struggle to learn – and the many obstacles we need to address as a society so our kids can be successful.

This documentary also clearly illustrates that education is a responsibility of our entire society, not just schools or teachers.  We can’t solve poverty or gang violence, or overcome cultural pressures that so often determine a child’s fate.

Time for School helped me build empathy with the characters in the film; so how is this any different than the students in my classes?  Now that I’ve experienced this documentary, I’m going to challenge myself to learn more about my students and get a better, holistic sense of who they are. I challenge all educators and administrators to get a clearer picture of their students, too. Even though it’s not on any standardized test or school accountability report, think about how much better we might serve our students and their families if we understand their needs, fears and desires.

I’m up for the challenge. Are you?

Michael Hernandez is an award-winning cinema and journalism teacher in Los Angeles.  His work focuses on social justice issues through digital storytelling and believes in student-centered classes where students are empowered to create an impact in their communities. Michael is an Apple Distinguished Educator, Google for Education Certified Innovator and PBS Digital Innovator, and speaks at national conferences about innovative teaching and learning strategies, technology integration and more.  Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @cinehead and at www.michael-hernandez.net

Michael Hernandez

Michael Hernandez Apple Distinguished Educator & PBS Digital Innovator www.michael-hernandez.net Twitter: @cinehead

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