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Archive for February, 2008

Individualistic rhetoric of success & achievement

Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

Thirty-two urban education students from Swarthmore College recently watched the introductory First Person DVD on their first day of class. Over the next several weeks, excerpts from their responses will be posted as part of this blog.

I would be lying if I said that I have never seen students like the ones in this documentary. Personally, I see students equally as motivated every day; students caught in the nets of a broken system. Nonetheless, I do think that portraits like the six young adults in the film are important to be shared. Having more representations of students who are driven to succeed is both helpful to rectify the misconceptions that the general “non-urban� public may have about “urban students� and also to serve as mirror images for students stuck in similar predicaments in their educational experiences.

However, at the same time that I think that the tendency to portray urban high schools as a place where “only the strong survive� firstly does not address the root of the problems (funding, class size, qualified teachers…), and secondly the individualistic rhetoric of success and achievement , I believe, is not the most effective for the successes of entire communities.

….working working working

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

prayer is a great main course…..meditation and chanting are awsome side dishes …..
I miss the big hugs cheek kisses and loving words…let us all bow our heads and pray …at a family meal before the father…

Ya OUUUUUUUUUUMMMMM
AMMMMMMMMMMEEEEEEEEEEEENnnnnnnnn
amiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyn

I need a big helping of all of the above.
if your out there reading this…..take the tim to prayfor us all…..

The grace of his lens

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

Thirty-two urban education students from Swarthmore College recently watched the introductory First Person DVD on their first day of class. Over the next several weeks, excerpts from their responses will be posted as part of this blog.

The word “urban” contains numerous racial and economic connotations. Generally, in the media and everyday life “urban lifestyleâ€? is portrayed as something poor, non-white, and dangerous. Director Benjamin Herold combats stereotypes associated with the word urban in his documentary First Person. By following six Philadelphian high school students, he frames urban education around the possibilities of six bright individuals rather than the institutional problems of Philadelphia public schools. Through the grace of his lens, he encourages his audience to move beyond the restrictions of the idioms coupled with everything urban.

A problem that is continual presented to me is the preconceived perception that most people hold about urban school systems. As a Black woman in a usually predominantly White environment, I find myself always defending Philly and its people. This documentary allows me to be silent on the issue, and permits the real students to tell their story. The documentary confronts a handful of stereotypes within its short trailer. Its structure prevents the director from telling a story about what he thinks is right or wrong with urban education. The video diaries of real Philadelphian students allow the audience to partake in a visual ethnography. The voice of the student is what matters most. In the director’s note of the First Person website, Herold writes, “If I’ve done my job well, audiences from all walks of life will find themselves viewing the path to college through the eyes of Steve, Macho, Malikka, Shalisa, Fresh, and Kurtis.� Herold uses their stories as a framework of urban education.

Because First Person is a first hand account of what it is like to be a high school student in North Philly, the documentary works as a great start in contextualizing urban education. It does not over compensate by showing all the good or all the bad because the students are explaining their lives. Although a small sample, I think that the documentary frames urban education as rich yet restricting environment. These qualities make First Person a great tool for teaching about urban education for those who have not attended such an institution.

Cannot wait

Monday, February 18th, 2008

I cannot wait for people to see this film. Its set to happen now - First Person has been accepted into the 2008 Philadelphia Film Festival, and our World Premiere is set for April 6 (more details to come).

In some ways, it feels surreal. We have all put so much into this, and now it is done, and right now it feels like the past four years could just disappear and no one would know it. No one would see the hope and sacrifice that went into making the film. No one would see the ways that it has changed me or the six young people in the film. Most disconcertingly, no one would see this record we have created of the tragedy that is unfolding in the hearts of urban public high school students all across this city and country every year.

But that will change, and soon…more thoughts to come.

Utmost respect for the effort they exert each day

Friday, February 15th, 2008

Thirty-two urban education students from Swarthmore College recently watched the introductory First Person DVD on their first day of class. Over the next several weeks, excerpts from their responses will be posted as part of this blog.

First Person offers a nuanced portrayal of the lives of high school students in an urban environment. For teenagers who attend high-achieving schools and come from families with generations of college graduates, going to college is an expectation rarely challenged. For such students, struggle revolves primarily around applying to and choosing between a handful of colleges and universities. First Person documents the obstacles faced by public high school students in urban Philadelphia for whom college is not necessarily the next step in life.


Steve, Fresh, Malikka, Macho, Shalisa, and Kurtis face formidable challenges—such as financial strain, family obligations, neighborhood distractions, and deficient high school experiences—to their future as college students and graduates. Shalisa struggles to keep up with her schoolwork as she helps raise her three younger sisters. Fresh has grown up without strong family support, in a neighborhood rampant with drug dealing. He sees an alternative to college in the army or navy, a path commonly chosen by young adults who seek a structured life and financial support. Kurtis finds himself distracted from the prospect of college by his social involvement in street life. Though Malikka is academically driven and appreciates her supportive family, she acknowledges the financial burden her mother will face trying to send three daughters through college. Collectively, these stories illustrate the myriad forces that act against many urban public school students as they prepare for life after high school…

As a prospective teacher in urban public schools, I reflect upon this documentary with anger at the unfair obstacles many urban public school students face, happiness for the rich and promising things in these students’ lives, and utmost respect for the effort they exert each day to construct and pursue positive futures for themselves. What goes on in the classroom does not represent the entirety of these students’ stories. This film illustrates that in order to best support students, educators must be cognizant of and sensitive to outside influences in their lives. Implementing stringent security measures in school buildings does not adequately address the problems in urban schools. Providing emotional, intellectual, and cultural support in the classroom that embraces rather than neglects students’ backgrounds would be a far more significant way to improve urban education.

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