Six years ago, Education Week launched the Education and the Media blog with the idea of casting light on coverage of education in the news media and examining how schools are portrayed in popular culture.
I agreed to take on the blog because I have always considered myself a student of media coverage of education. I had written an Education Week feature story in 1994 about how well newspapers were covering the education beat. That was practically a prehistoric era for online and social media, before the rise of numerous web-only education news outlets.
Since the 2013 debut of Education and the Media, I have written about topics such as magazine cover stories, radio series, ethics controversies, and journalism awards. I have noted staffing cuts at some media outlets, while documenting the laudable rise in recent years of niche, web-only education publications at both the local and national level. (Outside of the blog, Education Week examined that trend more intensively in a 2015 package of stories.)
Then there are the education documentaries. I never realized until we started the blog how many there were, from polished works that air on public television to scrappy labor-of-love films highlighting little-discussed areas of education.
My 10 favorite among those released since the blog began are these (in order of release):
“American Promise,” 2013, in which two New York City filmmakers followed their own son over virtually his entire elementary and secondary education.
“The Address,” 2014, a short documentary by Ken Burns (hard to believe but true!) about how a Vermont school for boys with learning disabilities encourages students to memorize Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
“Sex (Ed),” 2105, a sometimes hilarious, often poignant look at decades of U.S. sex education films.
“Most Likely to Succeed,” 2015, a well-funded documentary that looked at how the 1892 “Committee of Ten” organized the modern U.S. high school for the next century, and how San Diego’s High Tech High was breaking the mold.
“Rosenwald,” 2015, one of those labors of love, by filmmaker Aviva Kempner, about Julius Rosenwald, the Sears, Roebuck executive who personally funded hundreds of school for African-Americans in the South.
“All American High Revisited,” 2015, an update of a documentary about the 1984 graduating class at a California high school.
“Newtown,” 2016, a sad but gripping film about the 2012 mass shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“What Carter Lost,” 2017, an ESPN documentary about the controversy-filled journey of a Dallas high school through the Texas football playoffs in 1988.
“44 Pages,” 2018, a charming film about the 70-year history of the children’s magazine “Highlights for Children.”
“America to Me,” 2018, the 10-hour documentary series about race at Oak Park and River Forest High School in suburban Chicago, from “Hoop Dreams” co-director Steve James.
Note that the most discussed and probably widely viewed education documentary of recent years, “Waiting for ‘Superman’,” came out in 2010, so it wasn’t eligible for the above list.
Education documentaries are hard to hate, since they are all well-meaning and about topics of genuine importance. But not all are executed well. Still, they’re worth checking out at a film festival or public television channel near you.
This blog has also documented how education has been portrayed in popular culture, from the often-silly sitcoms on network TV about teachers to sometimes fun visits to schools by reality shows. And this beat was behind Education Week‘s examination last year of how mass shootings in school have been depicted in movies, TV, shows, videogames, theater, and literature, including young adult fiction.
Education Week periodically takes stock of its stable of blogs, and as part of that the Education and the Media blog is coming to a close. I still plan to follow and write about changes in news coverage of education and review or otherwise highlight important education documentaries and projects. If you need a regular fix of education media news, you probably already know about the prolific Alexander Russo, whose online column The Grade appears at Phi Delta Kappan.
To those involved in education journalism, keep writing, keep filming, keep those TV and radio microphones open to tell a vital American story.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.