Boulder Creek filmmaker captures different take on education
Originally posted in the San Jose Mercury News May 16, 2011
By Kirsten Fairchilds
Santa Cruz Sentinel
BOULDER CREEK — Working as a documentary filmmaker has helped Bob Gliner see the world.
Not the kind of world a typical tourist might yearn to see, but rather the international destinations an American filmmaker interested in ideas such as social justice and social change would want to explore.
From traveling to Russia in 1986 to examining American stereotypes of the Soviet people during Ronald Reagan’s presidency to heading to Cuba in 1997 to document the effects of the U.S. economic blockade on the Cuban people, Gliner estimated that he’s traveled to 35 countries and made 40 films.
A Boulder Creek resident, Gliner gave his passport a rest for his latest production, which had its Bay Area premiere Sunday and airs again Tuesday on KTEH.
Called “Lessons from the Real World,” the 57-minute film examines how public K-12 schools in Portland, Ore., are weaving social issues through their curriculum as a way to engage students both in and out of the classroom.
Gliner shot the film over a 10-week period last year from April to June. He spent significant time in eight K-12 schools, as well as at Portland State University.
Although “Lessons from the Real World” kept Gliner, 68, relatively close to home, the subject matter he elected to tackle was no less controversial or comprehensive than his previous endeavors.
“I hope this show is widely seen as a way of joining in the debate in what should be happening in education today,” said Gliner, who has also been a sociology professor at San Jose State University for 35 years. “Particularly the debate around No Child Left Behind’ and the updated version, Race to the Top.'”
“In the beginning, the people behind No Child Left Behind’ were well-meaning because they thought students were being left behind,” Gliner continued. “However, in the process of implementing the legislation, they lost sight of the goal and instead focus only on increasing test scores.”
That focus, according to Gliner, has not only been to the detriment of students, but to society as a whole.
“Schools are narrowing the curriculum to just the areas in which students will be tested on,” Gliner said. “Students are getting bored — it’s become a self-defeating process.
“The more schools seem to focus on these areas, the more students aren’t being motivated to become educated citizens,” he continued. “Another equally important consequence is that we’re turning out students who are politically illiterate.”
That won’t likely be the case for a group of Portland students if third-grade teacher Jeremy Thomas can continue with his approach. A teacher for three years at Sunnyside Environmental School — a public K-8 school located in Southeast Portland — Thomas is seen in the film teaching mathematical principles by sending his students out into their community with parental supervision to collect data and graph results around the idea of cycling as transportation.
The students then presented their findings at a Portland City Council meeting, after researching the role of both the city council as well as the members that serve on it.
“Bob’s film showed teachers being true professionals,” said Thomas, in a recent telephone interview after seeing the film. “He showed teachers that are dedicated, creative and willing to innovate — those that are not just going along with a scripted program that focuses solely on test scores.” “I was really impressed,” Thomas continued. “It was really nice to see a portrait of schools that was really positive. I feel there’s been a lot of negativity toward schools and teachers in the media recently.
For Gliner, who’s already hard at work on his next film, a search for something positive in the current state of education was the motivating factor to make “Lessons from the Real World” in the first place.
“What I wanted to show in this documentary is what’s possible for schools to do in terms of curriculum that focuses on social issues and engages the student,” Gliner said. “It doesn’t mean that all schools in Portland are like the ones in the film, but what it does show is that what is happening in Portland is possible anywhere else in the country.
“I like to think that this is an upbeat look at public schools,” he continued. “It shows a way to motivate students to do well.”
Bob Gliner’s “Lessons from the Real World” airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. on PBS station KCSM and at 11 p.m. on KTEH. For more information, visit www.docmakeronline.com.