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Friday, July 21, 2006

The Kids who will be King: the Power of a Video message



Some high school kids 30 minutes up the road from me are about to be famous.. very famous.

In less than sixty days their movie will be released in 400 theaters nationwide.

Facing the Giants was made famous mostly because of its PG rating. The author/directors/star, brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick, expected a PG rating because of the football scenes and a frank discussion of teen pregnancy, but instead, it was handed down for religious content. This made the news, but they haven't fought the rating, although many outspoken people have.

But this is not about religion. This topic belongs on my education blog.

Let me tell you the story of this film first. These two brothers loved to make movies since they were kids.

When they attended college together as communications majors at Kennesaw State University, they convinced professors to allow them to submit videos instead of term papers and exams. They graduated and moved on to New Orleans Theological Seminary (Atlanta branch) with the same counter-traditional approach. These brothers became pastors, first at Roswell Street Baptist in Marietta and then at Sherwood Baptist in Albany, Georgia. (Their private school Sherwood Christian Academy plays my school in sports.)

"These movies were designed to be fun, but they drew people in and provided opportunities for ministry," Alex says.


TV and movies are a significant influence in our culture

In 2002 Alex and Stephen read a national survey that said that movies and television were considered to be a greater influence on culture than churches or religion, so they started making movies with a message.

Their first movie, Flywheel, received some success. It was made with $20,000, volunteer actors, technical apparati made from parts at Home Depot, and catering by Sunday School classes. After massive local success, the movie is now carried in Blockbuster nationwide.

Armed with knowledge, and a passion to make movies with a message, the brothers wrote Facing the Giants about a football team with a six year losing streak. The church raised $100,000 to bring in five professionals in sound editing, and other areas including the master of photography, Bob Scott, a camera operator for such films as the Replacements, Any Given Sunday, and Friday Night Lights.

The actors were volunteers. Catering was by Sunday School classes. All of the proceeds will go to a $2.5 million dollar, 40 acre youth recreational park for the community of Albany by the church.

Provident Films, a joint venture with Sony pictures, will release the movie in 400 theaters after test screenings received rave reviews.

How does this relate to education?

I tell you this story to make a point. The educational classroom has evolved little since the pioneer days. Chalkboard, teacher, podium, hard uncomfortable desks. For over 150 years, that has been our educational delivery mechanism.

Here these men are making a message relevant to the masses. People who wouldn't darken the door of a church are responding to the movies.

Education fails when it is not engaging and relevant. In third world, industrialized countries, the students expect and can be made to sit in desks like robots. They can have three hours of homework. Education is the way out for many students. It is hope for many.

We bemoan the fact that America is slipping in education and seek to emulate the countries who are leading us. There is a significant flaw in that. Cultural differences can be significant. To expect a child in India to behave exactly like a child in Japan or China or America is not a correct assumption.

This is not to bemoan the shortcomings of America or any other places. Shortcomings or strengths, cultural differences must be accounted for in teaching delivery methods. America does have a culture of entertainment, television, X-boxes, computers, and personalized everything. We are who we are. Do I agree with it? Not entirely.

But when I stand in front of a room of wriggly teenagers and look to educate them, I must understand the culture to which they belong. To pull them from their electronic culture and sit them in a pioneer-model schoolroom would be like putting me under a tree sitting on a rock with Socrates. (I think I'd rather drink hemlock than sit on a rock all day!) I could learn from Socrates but I would be distracted by the rock!

What do adults want when they learn?

When I educate adults, they want comfortable chairs. They want a drink in their hand. They want a candy dish on the table. They want to have a stretch break every forty five minutes or so. They want to be allowed to interact sometimes. To break things up, they want to laugh a little. When I combine these things with some knock your socks off information that will change their lives, I have a great learning environment for adults.

Why should kids be different?
What makes us think that kids are any different? They need comfortable chairs. They need to be able to have a drink, to stretch, to interact, to laugh, and to learn. They need their lives changed with knowledge!

What would happen if kids were put in the movies?

What if we wanted a whole school to truly understand the Revolutionary War? What would happen if the school decided to make a movie about the Revolutionary War? What if the kids researched the costumes and the characters? What if they worked on the plot?

What if they were required to have metaphor, simile, hyperbole, and other methodologies used in literature as part of the script? What if they had to build some of the set and had to use Geometric formulas to calculate sizes of wood as they built? What if they had to film, edit, mix sound, come up with production schedules, memorize scripts, teach others their part? (

And to take it one step further, what if kids in England, France, and America each filmed from their perspective!)

Perhaps it would not be a nationwide released film. Perhaps they just made one to show the next ten years of students that followed them. It would be a life memory. It would be an amazing experience. It would teach and the kids would remember it for the rest of their lives. Parents would watch it and talk about the content with their kids. The whole school would be engaged in the process.

Time to evolve!
I don't know the answer to student engagement. I do know that it is time for the classroom to evolve.

I praise the parents for buying these boys (now directors/ authors) movie cameras. I praise the college professors for allowing the boys to turn in video instead of term papers or exams. Why don't we do that at the high school level? Doesn't it require a student to synthesize a topic to produce a video on it?

Video is a new medium for the masses. We teach composition. We will reach the point we will all need to know a little about communicating over video. Our faces and voice will be transmitted around the world and we will need to speak clearly, succintly, and engagingly. We will share information around the world.

The media is evolving. The movies are evolving. Education is evolving in revolutionary little pockets of people who don't know any better and just care about teaching kids.

I don't have any best practices on this one. I have a lot of questions. As you know, the cruise I took has me questioning a lot of the status quo.

Excellent Education

Again, I will tell you. I am NOT for weaking education. I graduated first in my class from Georgia Tech and from high school. I say this not to brag but to say, education and information is important to me. Learning a lot is important to me. And now good teaching is important to me. This is a brand new day and many educators are still snoozing in their kerchif with the sash down at the window!

We must ask questions. We must learn. We must evolve. We must measure. We must study. We must look at entertainment, movies, and television with a raised eyebrow as we lust over the medium's power to convey our message and help us be better teachers. We must not allow education to become irrelevant! Too much is at stake. We always sit one generation away from illiteracy and ignorance.

I believe video making is another effective tool in the hands of a good teacher!

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