Most of my empathy is a result of my experiences in education. As a teacher, I witness unthinkable irresponsibility and selfishness on a daily basis. In order to keep hold of my cherished sanity, I must believe in the innate goodness of mankind. I must believe that even the worst of students can be reached. Even Rush Limbaugh had a soul once. People can find the compassionate voice that the capitalistic hum silenced long ago. It is possible. And I witness this on a daily basis as well.
My students are just begging for something to believe in. They want so badly to be opened up to any alternative to the cutthroat bottom line existence of their mothers and fathers. They are screaming inside for a promise that doesn’t involve a cubicle and a computer. And for the kids living in poverty, it is amazing to see them on the edge of their seats when I suggest anything other than the traditional you-can-do-anything-if-you-put-your-mind-to it cliché that they long ago identified as bullshit. It is natural for people to want an opportunity to do something that important—something that can make the world a better place (And no, becoming a millionaire or a movie star is not important, nor is it meaningful). The models of success in
So I try my best to show them these windows into the truth of the world. I teach them that everything they have learned is wrong. I teach them that they need to reexamine every truth outlined for them by their preachers, their parents, and their teachers. I teach my tenth graders to question everything and learn the truth for themselves instead of mindlessly swallowing the nonsense spoon-fed to them by people whose only interest is to take advantage of their ignorance and to keep them in line. I do this not because everything they know is a lie, but because it shows them the power of critical thinking (and because they do find that many of the things they have been taught are false). Most importantly, I teach them this so they learn how to identify the destructive myths they are living and stop living the ones they do not agree with.
Ah…the power of education—but how do we, as adults already trapped in the monotonous cages of capitalism, educate ourselves in a world filled with so much misinformation? I know it’s hard to find time to read anything not written by Dan Brown or endorsed by the Oprah Book Club. I know we’re all busy watching two hour episodes of 24 and researching for the upcoming fantasy baseball draft. You are not a bad person because you like to watch Jack Bauer rip someone’s jugular out with his teeth every once in a while. I refuse to feel guilty for these things.
Luckily for our languid generation, the art of documentary filmmaking has become one of the most popular forums for the sharing all of the controversial, oft-censored or conveniently overlooked information out there. The following are a list of my favorite documentaries. Films I guarantee will change the way you look at yourself, your country, and your planet. Watch at your own risk. These films can open the window of critical thought inch by inch. Once you crack that window open, I encourage you to do exactly what I encourage my students to do, question everything you see. Look up the statistics. Read the criticism. Educate yourself! But be careful. Once you begin down the rabbit hole, it’s hard not to get lost. And when you return your entire world may look differently.
1. An Inconvenient TruthAl Gore outlines the issue in a very user-friendly way. The film is free of jargon and easy to follow. Gore keeps your interest by including powerful images of the very real and immediate impact we are having on the planet. He fearlessly delves into the urgency of our irresponsible lifestyles, identifies the reasons we have let it get to this point, and provides hope for the future if we act now. Everyone with a soul owes it to their children to watch this film.
This documentary will change the way you look at our impact on the environment.
With interviews from over 40 corporate insiders and critics, this film sets out with the ambitious task of exploring the dark corners of the most powerful institution in the history of the world. The film begins with the early 20th century interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution that gave the corporation the status and legal rights of a "person". As the film explores the rise of the pride of American capitalism, it asks the question, "What type of a person is the corporation?" The answers to this question are nothing short of disturbing. Today, the corporation as infiltrated every corner of America, from our government to our schools.
After we read Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, my tenth grade students debate the implications of absolute power without boundary or remorse. I encourage you to do the same.
3. Why We Fight
On January 17th, 1961, Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his farewell speech to the nation. He chose to focus on what he believed to be the biggest threat to the principles of our democracy. He begins by recalling that "[America's] basic purposes have been to keep the peace, to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity, and integrity among peoples and among nations." He continues by reminding the country that "any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension, or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt, both at home and abroad." Eisenhower then warns that we must we must "guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex, and adds that "the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."
Guess what? Eisenhower was right about the persistence of this industry, and his darkest fears have come true.
The "military-industrial complex" is the subject of the documentary Why We Fight. The film, using Eisenhower's speech as a backdrop, explores the collusion between the government and private arms manufacturers that exists today. The frightening answer to the question proposed in the title is outlined in agonizing detail.
This documentary is not for the weak hearted. Watch at your own risk and prepare to be shocked.
Other excellent documentaries I don't have the time to explain
4. Bowling for Columbine
- Subject: School violence; violence in the media; crazy gun-toting libertarians.
- Quicktime trailer
- Subject: What's in the food we eat; the crazy world of genetic engineering; Monsanto's frightening attempt to buy the rights to our genes
- Quicktime trailer
- Subject: Juveniles tried as adults; our twisted system of punishment without rehabilitation; why are jails are overcrowded and our streets are filled with crime
- Trailer (Click on preview)
- Subject: Quantum Physics and how we control our personal reality; complicated physics breakthroughs that will blow your mind explained in simple way.
I tried to pick documentaries that would cover a wide range of topics that many different people might be interested in. There were several more that I left off because I have been at this for about three hours and I'm hungry. I'll be sure to add more in future posts. I hope some of these films inspire you to become a more active citizen and critical thinker. Let me know what you think.