Education has been the topic of a handful of widely distributed documentaries in recent years. 2009’s Race To Nowhere highlights what some believe is an overemphasis on academic outcomes in America’s educational system, and that the subsequent risk to our children’s mental health. A play on the Obama administration’s controversial Race To The Top legislation, the film insists that education should accentuate creativity, instead of what some would argue are meaningless, stress-inducing academic outcomes. Another recent film with a different angle, the 2010 film Waiting for Superman, got a lot of buzz for the dramatic way it depicted how our national education system allows so many children to languish and fail, despite the fact that we know how to create good schools that can produce high-achieving students, no matter what their socioeconomic background. Both Race To Nowhere and Waiting For Superman produce a palpable sense of outrage and a demand for change.
But what change? Simply demanding change begs the question: of whom? And how? Voting? How is voting for a school board member, a levy proposal, even a President, going to register that demand for change, let alone give a parent a voice in what the change should be? Perhaps demanding change is not enough— perhaps we have to be the change. That’s the message of the communities featured in the 2011 film No Textbook Answer.
No Textbook Answer documents the efforts of communities around the country who came together to talk about the achievement gap as they saw it, and realized that they saw many gaps— some in their homes and communities, as well as their schools. Instead of waiting for change to come to them, they decided to make change themselves— which produced some surprising results.
No Textbook Answer’s name comes from one of its main insights—that there is no textbook answer that will fix every community’s achievement gap. Each community documented in the film had to create their own answer—based on their own shared understanding of the problem and the actions they chose to take together. Simply replicating the actions of any of the communities in the film won’t work for another community struggling with low educational performance. The film is meant to be a tool communities facing this problem can use to start their own conversations and begin deciding what change they can make.
No Textbook Answer: Communities Confront the Achievement Gap has aired on nearly 100 public and university television stations around the country, and individuals and organizations have also held screenings of the film. The film is available free of charge to any individual, organization, or station that would like to use it– DVDs are available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.