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“School forcibly snatches away children from a world full of God’s own handiwork …

It is a mere method of discipline which refuses to take into account the individual…

a manufactory for grinding out uniform results. I was not a creation of the schoolmaster:

the Government Board of Education was not consulted when I took birth in the world.”

– Rabindranath Tagore, 1927 Nobel Prize Winner for Poetry

Welcome to the STW blog page.  Check in with us here for updates about screenings, random thoughts about education and culture, links to interesting ideas and people, and whatever else life brings.   Post a comment, share your thoughts, ask a question, suggest a resource.    The purpose of the film is to begin a conversation; please join in.

  1. Richard MorehamRichard Moreham11-23-2010

    I’m really not sure what to make of this movie.

    There’s really some great wisdom in here, especially the words of Wade Davis, who is such a valuable light for the world at this time, but what is the point of the film? Should we all go and shoot ourselves now? The last section of the film is called “The Road to Hell” – hardly inspiring. Was the intention simply to complain while we wait for the white man in the suit from the World Bank to fix it for us?

    Wade Davis gives a more balanced view of the massive complexity of this incredible modern world, but the overall subtext of the movie seems to simplify everything to black and white – literally.

    Firstly, there’s the subtitle of the movie, which is, quite frankly, insulting. I know it’s taken from that cartoon, but it is a 100 year old cartoon and is taken way out of that context in the title. If schooling the world is the ‘white man’s’ burden, is that suggesting that the ‘white man’ must fix the problem for everyone else? I hope not. That simply reinforces the kind of thinking that started the problem in the first place – the assumption that outsiders can fix the education systems of other cultures or, even worse, that the Ladakhis aren’t capable of that. The only people to build the best education system for Ladakh are the Ladakhi people themselves, as part of a global community.

    The problem is bad education, EVERYWHERE! This movie keeps on quoting the ridiculous attitudes of the West from a century ago, which thankfully the we have well and truly moved a long way from. Sure, these propagated the current system, but we’ve moved on, thankfully, but still have so far to go. The school you showed in Ladakh is not a good school by any modern Western standard – and it is your only example.

    The thing is that this global education system doesn’t even serve the wealthy Western countries well. I AM a ‘white man’ who has had a supposedly good education – and to this day I am still trying to rediscover myself from that upbringing. I do not consider myself at all ‘rich’ in the abundance that the world has to offer. In my upbringing I lacked some of the basic learnings of community and humanity that anyone in a village in Ladakh or The Congo would take for granted. So I’m the last person who should be sticking my nose into the education system of any of these places as I’m still trying to learn some of those basic qualities of being human from them and others like them.

  2. cblackcblack11-25-2010

    Hi Richard:

    Your response is interesting, since the intention of the filmmakers is in complete agreement with almost every point you make here.

    Perhaps the subtitle – which was intended ironically – created an impression that we were seriously advocating taking a “white man’s burden” attitude toward tradtional cultures.

    Instead, our feeling is in complete agreement with Wade Davis’ assertion that traditional cultures have their own intelligence, their own canons of knowledge, which are as valuable – and certainly more sustainable – than the curriculum taught in modern schools.

    The use of the historical references is intended to highlight that some of the attitudes which were present during the formation of the modern school system are in fact still structurally present in it today – despite the fact that our conscious intentions are now quite different. Things like the separation of children from nature, and the competitive “sorting” mechanism which condemns millions of children to being labelled as failures were quite intentional at the time of the origins of the modern school system, and are in fact still intrinsic to it today. So even though many teachers wish their students could spend more time out in the natural world, or that they didn’t have to label children in negative and harmful ways, they are compelled to comply with a system that structurally demands these things.

    The phrase “The Road to Hell” is not intended to create despair, but is a reference to the old saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” – in other words, to the idea that we often do great damage when we think we have all the answers, and try to “help” other people by telling them what to do. As you point out in your comment, the modern education system doesn’t really even serve children in the affluent nations well, so perhaps we should try to address some of our own problems before exporting them overseas.

    Filmmaking is an interesting craft, with constant choices to be made as to when to make your intentions explicit and when to simply juxtapose the elements and allow the audience to draw their own conclusions. The idea that education is anything but a universal good is so far from most people’s minds that it created many challenges in terms of how to present the material in this film. But ultimately the point of the film is not to provide all the answers, but to ask a question, to open a conversation, so I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts. Best, Carol

  3. RichardRichard03-19-2011

    Hi Carol

    Thanks for your response and, sorry, my comment was more than a little uncharitable in not emphasising how powerful the film was overall and in the wording I chose. Now, whenever I hear of well-meaning education programmes in ‘poorer’ countries I automatically find myself questioning what the quality of the education will be and whether it will start from the local cultural wisdom and values.

    My main point really was that I would have liked to see some positive stories as well to show what’s possible, rather than what I saw as mainly stating the problem. It would have been powerful to contrast the school shown with another school that has respected the local culture and to learn from that. But you could also see this as posing an open question, as you say, and plus of course maybe your resources were limited too.

    I also respect your point that those old educational values are still intrinsic in the modern systems. That’s a global challenge.

    So, thanks. This is a powerful and very important film, which I’m very glad to have seen.

    Warm regards, Richard

  4. Radhika KidaoRadhika Kidao12-07-2011

    I come quite late into this discussion and am still waiting to watch the movie. Thank you Carol for what you are doing. Some thoughts…

    I live in the ‘developing’ world. I wonder what we are developing towards? Is time linear? What has the ‘developed’ world developed into? Is it the benchmark? This is the question that underpins your work, I believe.

    I believe formal classroom and examination based education for all which is homogenised and which produces scores of graduates with nothing meaningful to do is wrong, very wrong.

    But as a person from the colonised world, I believe that my people and our culture have also had our part to play in arriving at this situation. In our culture too there is a strong history of valuing education especially in certain strata of society – not the everyday education – that you receive at your parents’ side – but where you go away to live and learn with teachers. Teachers are revered and so formal/westernised education found a fit. Our cultures colluded with each other to put undue value on ‘being school/university educated’.

    Now the solutions you suggest have to come from the people not just involve them; if solutions come from outside I fear a repeat of the same mistake in another garb – another wave of people with another good idea to sell.
    I write this with all respect for those who come to this from their hearts; but let not undoing the mistakes of the past be a new crusade – one of unburdening the white man.

  5. Carol BlackCarol Black12-07-2011

    Radhika, thanks so much for your thoughtful and interesting comments. I could not agree with your last point more; while of course generosity is always a good trait, I think it’s the idea that it’s up to people from the “developed” societies to decide how all the world’s children should be raised that is at the root of the difficulty here.

  6. Radhika KidaoRadhika Kidao12-07-2011

    Thank you for your response Carol. I just finished watching the movie. Beautifully made. Where I live such an education system is flattening the society and there are some jobs that have no takers locally because they hold no value. Maybe you will consider doing a sequel showcasing initiatives that have reconnected peoples to the ecology that they are integral to.
    May you have the support of the dhamma in all you do

  7. Carol BlackCarol Black12-07-2011

    In fact we are planning just such a sequel, and if you have any suggestions for local initiatives, please let us know. We’d also love to hear more about what is happening in your area if you’d like to contribute a guest post. Thank you for your kind remarks!

  8. Vipin NayyarVipin Nayyar02-21-2012

    Hi Carol,

    I thank you from the core of my heart to make such a wonderful movie. The very concept of educating a natural being with a curriculum limited by human understanding and shortsightedness is a crime against human civilization. I think the biggest enemy of human beings are human beings themselves. Profit at the cost of consumer’s life is an economics beyond my comprehension.

    If this is progress and development, then we urgently need to redefine the fundamentals of life.
    Production is not for consumption, it is only for profit making. The green revolution in India had prompted farmers to use Genetically Modified seeds, Pesticides, Insecticides, and all sorts of carcinogenic chemicals to have maximum yield. There were immediate financial results but the impact of green revolution on human life is surfacing slowly. In northern province of Punjab where green revolution had maximum impact, people in Bhatinda and nearby villages are dying of cancer. A train from Bhatinda to Bikaner (Rajasthan) is named as Cancer Express. As this train is full of cancer patients going to a Charitable Cancer Hospital in Bikaner daily. Samples of blood and mother’s milk show extremely high percentage of pesticides.Is this progress?

    I have been talking to students in the university about this movie. I think we really need to screen this movie at schools and colleges in India. The only problem I see is that it’s in English. I would love to contribute in case you decide on Hindi version of this movie.

  9. Carol BlackCarol Black02-29-2012

    Thanks so much for your comment, Vipin. We are trying to get a Hindi translation of the film now; please keep checking back with us for updates.

    The connection between education and agriculture is so important. Bill Clinton now admits that outside interference in Haitian agriculture which pressured people to grow food for export rather than for local consumption has vastly contributed to poverty and hunger in Haiti. The UN now admits that traditional ecological agriculture for local consumption is a better path to food security than industrial chemical-intensive agriculture. And yet Bill Gates is now promoting GMO’s as the only solution to the problems of world hunger. The assumption that the knowledge and “expertise” of outside “educated” development professionals is superior to the local knowledge of people who have been living sustainably on the land for many generations is at the root of much suffering.

  10. Vipin NayyarVipin Nayyar03-05-2012

    I am shifting to a remote village in Himalayas near Badrinath. I wish to start a self-sustained life with minimum dependency on the currency. I have purchased agricultural land and will soon start cultivation. The beauty of that place can’t be described in words. There are many people over 100 years of age with all their teeth intact and 98% of their hairs black. With no spectcles they can easily walk 10 km per day. The water, air, and their indigenous food is so healthy and pollution free there mere saying the words “Development & Progress” is going to contaminate their pure life. I look forward to the Hindi Version of the movie at the earliest to save these people from so called NGOs who go there in the name of human welfare and make them aware of what they do not have. It’s to say that these so called Business Houses of Humanity go their and tell them that people in Delhi are so wealthy that they can get their “Cancer” treated in 5 star hospitals, and the innocent people start saying that ” Cancer is my bithright” “I should not be deprived of 5 star cancer hospitals” In the name of human welfare these Doctors are planning to make the whole society ill, so that they can make good business. I will contact Manish Jain in Udaipur to see if he can also work for the Hindi Version. I am sorry to say but this movie was not made for Indian Audience. Hindi version can really save many more people in India

  11. Jagdish BhatiaJagdish Bhatia04-10-2012

    When a child is not going to school, we are snatching a world of possibilities from him/her.

  12. Vipin NayyarVipin Nayyar02-13-2013

    Dear Jagdish,
    Schooling the world is not about stopping the kids from going to school but asking a fundamental question of what is knowledge? Why the curriculum of Education is same throughout India when the circumstances, survival conditions, food habits are all different in different regions.
    Education in our schools do not tell us how to live happy in my own village but to prepare kids for metropolitan cities. Small independent self-sustained economies are being destroyed to make bigger inter-dependent metropolitan societies through this present education system. Millions of people who had access to fresh food, fresh water, good quality air are moving to cities to live in slums in the name of development, where our drinking water is sourced from our own sewer. What is development ? is a fundamental question.

    There is also need to address the issue of competition and comparison in education. Are we getting knowledge in the schools? Or just information to become consumers for this present system of economic growth, which is going to fail. We are already in recession you can’t have unlimited economic growth when the natural resources are limited. Until when we keep on encouraging our kids to consume more and more and more..
    Knowledge and literacy are two different things, our ancestors might not be able to sign but it does not mean that they were not educated.

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If you wanted to change a culture in a single generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children.