Laughing Through The Tears

What The Children Are Trying to Tell Us Through Film

By MARCIA RILEY

Education receives the biggest share of the national budget yet we continually grieve that our students are not doing well and egomaniacs in education continue to lay blame on ‘the Ministry” while “the Ministry” joins with the national community to place the blame on the doorsteps of the schools [for which they have a great deal of responsibility, even in the non-governmental arena) the parents, peer group pressure, in fact any line that can be used for hanging blame, as long as it suits the purpose…single parent homes, the community, the media in general and the TV in particular and now, more so, the cell phone and the Internet!
So when will this blame game stop? Shouldn’t collective wisdom prompt us to go to the battle field of the difficulty and ask the children? Is it that adults fear their answers? After all adults know the answers. Deep down inside they know the answers will be brutal.
At a screening of the winning entries at the recently concluded Secondary Schools Film Festival where the students’ voices come through the stories they tell on film, very few adults turn up. Students are there to see themselves and their school mates on film. How exciting! They are applauding- their smiles visible in the pale light cast from the screen; they are laughing loudly and chatting noisily to hide their discomfort perhaps, or cover up emotion about tragedy that is so commonplace to them that they are numb to it.
The movies show angry, scared, frustrated young people on whom millions of dollars are being spent, lashing out at each other, eating up themselves and one another daily in our schools, while adults too easily conclude that something is wrong with today’s youth. Are adults in T&T too scared to admit the truth that maybe the something that is wrong is wrong with them…that a capacity to love and care is missing…that their rhetoric is not supported by action…that things will not right themselves by magic after all? No. Righting this wrong requires individual action and work with our children to fix it
The themes portrayed in their movies…maybe 5-10 minutes long, in some instances maybe less, were about boys fighting with each other, girls fighting with each other, boys bullying girls, girls bullying each other, boys bullying each other, boys extorting money from girls and girls desperately trying to get that money from a parent[mother of course!] to ward off impending harm from the boy, students ridiculing, bullying each other; all the stories ending violently either deliberate stabbing or accidental death due to some trauma including suicide. Of the 10 or more short films viewed only two dealt with other themes [folklore].
The power of the students’ movie stories is heightened by the fact that they were mostly shot in schools, perhaps for the convenience, but let us not delude ourselves; schools provide the stage on which the real life drama is played out everyday. So naturally, the schools make marvelous natural sets, impressive buildings even when somewhat shabby; impressive grounds which are more often than not places of beauty. But the students are telling us something with their stories: that perhaps literature and drama and poetry are absent from their schoolwork on a regular, routine and compulsory basis. For it is through the stories [real and imagined] of the best writers of the human experience that young minds gather perspectives of society’s attitudes to violence, suffering and loss as well as beauty, hope and the capacity of the human spirit to triumph and endure.
As early as 1990, the Ministry of Education recognizing that students would be the ones to journey into and inhabit cyberspace, embarked on a project to activate media at the level of production (in school and in the public domain). The orientation of teachers for their guiding role in the exploration of media use in instructional delivery was necessary as well as the stimulation and involvement of the most highly qualified teachers in educational measurement and the evaluation of media products used in the classroom {regardless of their origin] as well as the processes utilized in production and the impact of the media materials made by students.
The underlying thrust was two-fold. Firstly, to give both students and teachers the voice they so desperately needed for alerting unhearing administrators of the education system that something was wrong with the education system at the people level.

Making media materials for broadcast gave schools a voice to speak to parents who do not attend PTA meetings but may be engaged through public media. A voice to speak to the wider community and enlist their help in a free and natural way of engagement with alma mater, district youth and school.
Secondly, through the implementation of the project, teachers would have greater practice working in the affective and psycho-social domains, balancing the existing concentration on the cognitive domain, highly prized for its role in achieving certification. The media draws on all acts of creative expression and so the project involved the whole school in its activities- students, teachers, auxiliary staff, parents, community police, counselors, psychologists, librarians, musicians, rappers, calypsonians- all in a natural seamless involvement as the story required. The artistic development of this voice captured the imagination and hearts of many in the school system and the public with the IZZAMIX series which received kudos from well known television personality Hazel Ward and which during the year 1992-93, made the Ministry of Education the single largest supplier of local television programming, all this done without the use of facilities in the then brand new Rudranath Capildeo Learning Resource Centre in Couva that was still awaiting state-of-the-art equipment.
The evaluation was done. Report submitted with recommendations. Was this new voice too much too handle? No budgetary provision made. The project folded. Life went on. Movietowne happened. The Ministry of Education let go of its opportunity to use media as a device to address the many ills in the system, to become faceless in a media activity that it supports via access to schools and some funding. Life goes on – unfeeling even though resources exist in the education system to make a difference, even though curriculum can guide the shape of the development of audio-visual activity.
Over the years, the quality of the offerings at Movietowne by the schools has not improved significantly and there are reasons for this – commitment, valuing the activity beyond the temporal glory of winning, lack of confidence, strong skill sets and interest, development of media programmes linked strongly with the Arts and not merely as part of IT, to name a few. The resources for transformation lie in this media environment that is the students’ world and we need to use it wisely while we have them captive in the education system. However, for those in the system and the rest of the society created by the same system who lack what celebrated Caribbean writer George Lamming calls ‘the education of feeling’, the appreciation and value of artistic endeavour is placed on the lower end of a scale that puts scientists at the opposite end, oblivious to the role creative acts play in saving our collective being.

When will this archaic polarized view end? We don’t have a clue as to how many ‘brilliant’ young contributors we have lost to violent death. We don’t have a clue as to how many ‘brilliant’ scientists lack the education of feeling. It is through the education of feeling that a society has a chance to develop the will to be free, the will to treasure life, to appreciate the efforts of those who went before and the challenges they faced to create what is enjoyed today.
Through the education of feeling a society learns to be grateful for its resources and creates ways to make them work for the benefit of all. Through the education of feeling society strives to minimize injustice, selfishness and greed. The imperative must be the quest for the education of feeling even as we educate and build for the knowledge society. The debate must begin on what and how we help the young to feel, not merely in a simplistic display of emotion, but with the use of reason; not merely a conditioned response dictated by societal norms but through their grasp of the range of human experiences so that they may respond with their own authentic inner urgings.
At the Little Carib Theatre that Saturday morning, the young audience not knowing how to respond to tragedy [it’s a way of life for them] laughed in their numbness and embarrassment at scenes of relatives weeping at a graveside for the loss of a child, or the taunts about facial attributes that drive a child to suicide. They laughed at scenes in which bullied students cower in fear or run from an attacker. They laughed. Laughed through the pain…laughed at the pain…Who will hear our children’s pain? Who will listen to their media voices?

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