Film Review: Go Public

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Last night I went to a preview for an independent documentary film called Go Public: a Day in a Life of an American School District. I would’ve posted yesterday, but it was already pretty late and I was tired. Go figure…

The film is, as the title suggests, a non-narrative look at a day in the life of persons involved in public school life. The film was made with 50 crews, 50 subjects, all within 1 day (project planning and editing, of course, not included). Of the 50 film crews, 10 of them were led by actual students. The film also featured various persons including students, teachers from all grade levels, special education, counselors, principals, parents, custodians, coaches, security guards, a school board member, and the superintendent. All 28 schools in the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) were featured. The Go Public Project has gone on for about 2 years now and is currently in its grass roots stage, where local communities watch and discuss the film independently before it is released or distributed.

The website at http://gopublicproject.org also features a series of 4-minute shorts about each of the subjects.

The Pasadena Context

The City of Pasadena is world-renowned for being the home of baseball hall-of-famer Jackie Robinson (who also went to a PUSD school), the annual Rose Parade, and whose surrounding communities also hold the Huntington Library and Gardens (San Marino) and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (La Cañada). Pasadena is resident to a very diverse population, as is reflected by the public school system. Many of the “old rich” families had their homes in Pasadena, including the Gamble House (of Proctor & Gamble) and the Wrigley’s Mansion (of Wrigley’s gum, which is now the Tournament of Roses HQ).

The City of Pasadena (and more specifically PUSD) is found in many high school political science textbooks thanks to the public busing system, where kids from all over the city were placed on buses to schools across town in order to remove the city’s de facto segregation in the 1960s.

And yet in this city full of history and tradition, there is a huge problem: how the public eye views the PUSD system. Roughly 30-40% of all the children under 18 years of age in Pasadena go to private schools, perhaps the largest percentage for a city of its size to have in the entire nation. A lot of things have probably caused that, which I will get to later, but certainly that statistic has never been helpful to PUSD, its workers, but most of all, to its students.

Go Public attempts to show the public eye what really goes on in a PUSD school, both good and bad; and in my opinion, shows it fairly accurately. Having been through the PUSD system for 12 years, I had mixed feelings about the film’s portrayal. On the one hand, I was glad that the real events that happened were shown, as I had remembered going through the school system so many years ago. On the other hand, it broke my heart knowing that of the 50 subjects in the film, even they were not immune to the budget cut problems and some were in fact laid off after the filming had been completed.

As an aspiring teacher specifically for a public school I know that such a fear is reasonable and many have tried to tell me to stay away from the idea, especially in Southern California, but I see this as an opportunity to change things for the better. If you couldn’t tell from the portrayal of my writings including Prof. Ginkgo in my fan fiction, I will not go quietly and stand idly by as things around me start to go awry. I am a person who sees a problem and finds every way I can to solve it.

White Flight

Coupling the Pasadena context, and more specifically the PUSD bus initiative from the sixties, is perhaps one of the most unspoken issues in the problem at hand (by the way, the Go Public film does not mention it at all). Ever since the decision to desegregate Pasadena schools then, many white families opted out and sent their kids to private schools immediately. In the years following the busing initiative, more private schools sprouted up than ever before in Pasadena; and consequently, many of the white (and at least back then, the highest performing) students moved in to them. Now I know that private schools do in fact allow some people of color into their doors, so long as they behave well, get high marks, and of course, pay for the tuition; but for the most part, the rise of private schools has become the choice alternative in Pasadena to public schools.

It is true that PUSD cannot turn away students from any of their schools. Everyone from the most well-behaved children to the delinquents groomed into someday becoming criminals are placed under the same roof. I get that. The stigma behind this, however, is that all students in public schools will not have a chance, and the fear of having children who have no affluent future drives many families away from the public school system altogether. And yet for most families with these fears, it comes to no surprise that none of them have ever been in a public school. Ever.

My two siblings and I were placed in the PUSD system for 12 years apiece. Due to unusual circumstances, we went to the same elementary and middle schools but decided to go to three different high schools; but all the schools were public nonetheless, and yes, all were in Pasadena. Now certainly my family could have afforded private school if they wanted to, and for a brief time in middle school, I even wanted to get sent to one; knowing of course that my mental health history probably would never let me in one of them. My parents, however, decided to keep me in a public school and even more specifically in the regular track (as opposed to special education, which believe it or not, was an option for someone like me). I probably have never told them, but I’m glad they made that decision (the public school decision, of course). I probably would’ve never been the person I am today without that decision.

Children Will be Children…

No matter where they go. One of the panelists for the film last night told us an anecdote about sending his daughter from the Montessori school to a PUSD school long ago. Many of the other parents were talking about sending their kids to certain places, but finding out he would send his daughter to a public school seemed out of the question! “Your kids gonna get eaten alive!” he said as he retold the story. It’s as if no one in a public school will ever survive coming out.

“Bitch, please,” a common même says; the public school system isn’t as bad as folks make it out to be; and to be honest, the children act the same way no matter where they go. There’s a charter school down the street from where I live, and their kids (as higher-performing as they are) always invade the local McDonald’s whenever I’m there, it seems. I thought public school kids were bad when I was in middle school; these kids are just as rowdy.

It’s also a common misconception that public schools are a hotbed for drug activity. While that is true, private school students are also known to use drugs as well; only more expensive and sometimes even more lethal ones than that of public school students.

One of the teachers in the film said that kids are not necessarily bad or good; but are raised a certain way with their families. If anything, the school is like a family to many students; and like a family, one must learn to deal with the way others are. Public school is a perfect means to truly learn how to be with very different people (and I mean VERY different). Of course, I’m the kind of person that thrives off of being different, no matter where I go. If I had to be in a school where everyone was just like me, you bet your ass I’d do something outlandish to show that I’m different; and you bet your ass if I was in private school that I’d probably get kicked out!

Intrinsic Value

At the end of the day, there are a lot of people that are involved in making the school system work. From the teachers to students, from families to community, from maintenance crews to custodians, from principals to board members; one thing is quite common for those who are in the industry. All of them truly care about the well-being of their students, no matter who they are. One teacher in the documentary said that if given the choice of a million dollars and being happy every day, he would choose being happy. And doing things for his students makes him happy.

This is the true value that life has to offer. One of my goals in life is to inspire others to think more critically and be the starter of changes in this world. While my current background is not apparent to others, I deeply care about children and truly believe they are the ones who will carry on traditions and hopefully not struggles when my time has passed. If I had to choose to be a person who makes things happen or stand idly by, I’d rather do the former; because let’s face it, I can’t sit still to save my life!

Such are the reasons I plan to become a teacher. And yes, for a public school

Find more details about the Go Public movie at http://gopublicproject.org. Also, check out what’s going on in Pasadena Unified School District at http://pusd.us.

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