The Way of the Future in Ed Reform Advocacy

Matt has been a leader in noting how technology will change the way we educate students in the future.  But technology is already fundamentally changing how people advocate for their preferred reforms.  Documentaries and movies are displacing print forms of advocacy at a rapid clip.

We’ve seen documentaries like Waiting for Superman and Race to Nowhere have far greater impact than any blog, article, or book.  And now dramatic films, like Won’t Back Down are making the case for parent trigger laws more powerfully than any print argument.  For better or worse, ed reform is going Hollywood.

In part this shift of ed reform advocacy to film is a manifestation of my earlier argument that the intellectual debate over the broad principles of education reform is over.  A broad consensus among elites has developed that lack of resources is not the central problem with our education system and that simply pouring more money into schools will have little effect.  There is also a broad consensus that parents should have some choice in where their children go to school and that those choices are not only fair to parents and children but also the competition they produce will help improve schools.  These ideas have been found in speeches given by President Obama, in the Democratic Party’s platform, and in liberal establishment newspapers like the Washington Post and not just in the conferences organized by the American Enterprise Institute.  And the collection of athletes and other celebrities joining the ed reform party is rapidly growing.

In addition, the teacher unions are finally being treated as the special interest group they are rather than as credible players in the discussion over the merits of various education policies.  When Campbell Brown takes on the unions the game is over.   

Of course, the unions are still quite powerful and the battles over each policy and the regulations that are appropriate will continue for a long time, but the big intellectual war over ed reform is over.  Similarly, Brown v. Board of Education marked the end of the big intellectual war over racial equality in America, but the battles over the best policies to promote equality have and will continue to rage.

The end of the big intellectual war over education reform has opened the door to Hollywood’s elites to join the fray.  Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner came along after the dust from Brown had settled, not before.  Similarly, the wave of Hollywood films on ed reform is just starting.

And it’s not just Hollywood that’s getting into the ed reform act.  Last night I watched a Bollywood film, Three Idiots, that makes the case for a more student-centered education.  I’m not saying that it is a great film or that it’s argument is well-made.  I’m just saying that technology is being brought to ed reform advocacy and movies are playing an increasingly important role.  And it is worth noting that Three Idiots broke records for the highest grossing Bollywood opening and highest overseas revenues.

You can watch the entire movie for free on YouTube, but here was the most entertaining part.  Don’t worry about the lack of subtitles in the clip since the words don’t really matter.  Once people can see the beautiful colors and fun of ed reform advocacy in a film, why will they ever read a blog post again?

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5 Responses to The Way of the Future in Ed Reform Advocacy

  1. Greg Forster says:

    Documentaries and movies are displacing print forms of advocacy at a rapid clip.

    So to speak!

    Once people can see the beautiful colors and fun of ed reform advocacy in a film, why will they ever read a blog post again?

    At least three of us will have a reason. Prime directive! Will we still say we’d write this blog even of only the three of us read it when it’s actually just the three of us reading it?

  2. allen says:

    Is this a private pity party or can anyone chime in with a heartfelt “awww”?

    On the main thesis, that video is now becoming an important means of advocacy, for education reform or much of anything, you’re a little late to the party. At the dark end of the spectrum does the title “Triumph of the Will” ring a bell? More proximately, how about “Stand and Deliver”?

    Video, i.e. film, has been a venue for advocating, and for mirroring popular sentiments resulting in advocacy, for about as long as there’s been video. Leave us not forget “Birth of a Nation” as another example.

    What’s changed lately with some of those movies you mentioned is a shift from either wish fulfillment, as in “Stand and Deliver”, “To Sir With Love”, “Take the Lead” or anger at the institution as in “The Breakfast Club”, “Lean on Me” and even the lamentable “Dangerous Minds” to a more direct and focused advocacy as in “Waiting for Superman”. A transition from a generalized dissatisfaction with the shortcomings of public education to specific solutions, i.e. a change from being unhappy with where we are to a moving towards a goal.

    On the secondary thesis that video’s displacing the written word, bush lit.

    If every blog about education reform were a stepping stone you could walk across the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, the sheer volume of advocacy may become a problem in that Gresham’s Law may well apply to written opinion. Stick Luciano Pavarotti in the middle of a feedlot and his talents are lost in a hurricane of meaningless mooing.

    Not sure about that last but it is something that worries me.

  3. [...] increasing in enrollment while all school districts in the state continue to see less funding. The second is being continuously retweeted with the message that “The intellectual debate over the [...]

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