A 10-hour documentary series focused on the minority student achievement gap is not likely to reveal solutions. The documentarian can cherry-pick 8 to 12 students, some teachers and a couple of administrators to tell stories from their point of view. There are thousands of students, hundreds of teachers and dozens of administrators who are voiceless and invisible to the viewers.
The chosen want to tell their Oak Park story. Most students don’t want to audition for a part — too scared, shy, uninformed or indifferent. This is a snapshot of the high school world in 2015-16. It would be very interesting to see how the participants feel about their high school experience after they have gone on to college or employment. Life outside the bubble of high school can change perception.
The documentary art form is an inherently flawed means of discerning truth. It is clear that we humans act differently when we are observed (the Hawthorne Effect). It’s why I load the dishwasher more carefully when Marsha is in the kitchen.
All this said, I have enjoyed these first episodes. The show captures the incredible, swirling energy, humor and vibe of this very special high school. I love all the students and am pulling for them. I can feel the frustration of the high school’s adult community.
The idea that a big public high school can somehow be held responsible for closing this pernicious, significant gap seems unlikely, even absurd. The educational community has spent significant time and money for 25 years with no real progress. So I give the school credit for trying.
Putting the high school in the bullseye of responsibility seems a bit unfair to me. Surely the parents, day care facilities, elementary schools and the students themselves bear some responsibility for education. The achievement gap is manifest years before the ninth grade.
But I suppose the high school can be criticized for not trying hard enough. There is a lot of vague, abstract, education-speak, but what exactly should the high school be doing? Good intentions are not solutions. Trying harder and being more sensitive are not strategies.
OPRF High School is a big, diverse, suburban, taxpayer-supported high school. It necessarily involves many competing constituencies: students, parents, teachers, elected board members, heavily-taxed homeowners and businesses, et al who have opinions, expectations and investment in the community.
So maybe the high school could do more to help the underachieving students, but maybe it has done as much as it possibly can, given that the majority of stakeholders do not quite share the primacy and urgency of closing a gap that seems to defy closing.
Maybe there have been students who have had the arc of their lives changed for the better by their efforts and the help and support of parents and teachers. I hope their stories will be told.
I do apologize for a critique of a work before it is completed. One should avoid a book report on War and Peace until at least after the war. I just couldn’t wait.