9th and 10th graders at Renaissance Charter High School made the following video as an assignment. They did such a good job that it received a mention in the New York Times.
I suppose this is an example of the innovative teaching that goes on in charter schools. Of course, it is easy for students to make something like this when the school has proper video equipment. As you watch the video, ask yourself what the students might have actually learned from this project. Yes, maybe they got experience being in front of a camera. They also probably got a taste for what it means to be behind the camera. Finally, they most likely used editing equipment to take all of their raw footage and weave it into a comprehensive piece.
Public school children are perfectly capable of doing the same thing; all they need is the equipment. Of course, in the age of budget cuts that starve public schools, it is unlikely many of them would even have this equipment.
The students did a good job on the video. It is not their fault that their teachers required them to shill for Governor Cuomo. While some teachers might be impressed with something like this, I do not see the educational value at all. The only thing the students of Renaissance Charter High School learned from this video is how propaganda works.
The media does the same thing as the students in the video. They take the words of someone in authority, like a governor or tycoon, and broadcast it far and wide. If Cuomo says he is a lobbyist for students, then the media reports him as being a lobbyist for students. If President Bush says Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, then the media will replay that line over and over until 300 million Americans believe it.
The teachers who gave this assignment were obviously not interested in developing critical thinking in their students. That would entail the students doing some investigative work, like why Andrew Cuomo would say such a thing in his State of the State speech (did they even learn what the State of the State is? Do they know what a lobbyist is?) Maybe it has something to do with being bankrolled by Rupert Murdoch. Or perhaps it has something to do with an opportunistic politician who wants to ride the wave of teacher bashing that pervades the country. Whatever it is, the kids at Renaissance will never know.
And this is why the public should not buy this claptrap that charter schools are somehow innovative laboratories of pedagogy. As far as this assignment was concerned, it was a net loss for the students. Sure, they might have gotten some experience in making a video. Yet, they carried out an exercise in media propaganda without knowing it. They will now think that all it takes to be on television is to become a mouthpiece for the rich and powerful. They have learned that political rhetoric is fact and the media’s job is to parrot this rhetoric far and wide.
Welcome to the world of education reform, where students are taught not to question the world around them. Welcome to Renaissance Charter High School, where students are given a top-flight education in shilling.
What I wonder is, does the staff at Renaissance see anything wrong with requiring students to mindlessly repeat what essentially amounts to a political stance? Do they see anything wrong with making an issue that has more than one side seem as if there is only one side?
Probably not. Something tells me that the teachers there are young and underpaid, without the skill or the knowledge to create activities that require actual thought on the part of their students.