Thanks to the organizational efforts of Harvard Law student Elena Medina, we had the opportunity to screen the 4th cut of Two Million Minutes for a room full of Harvard graduate students from the Law School, the Kennedy School of Government and the School of Education.
We certainly felt welcomed and we were delighted to get such a large, engaged and animated crowd on a Friday night. They not only enjoyed the film – they stayed for over two hours to discuss and debate the implications of the explosion of educated talent emanating from India and China – for the US and for US education. It was a lively, sometimes even feisty, debate.
Surveying the students before the film, we learned that only a couple had visited Indian or Chinese schools, and none were aware of the magnitude of the school systems in these countries - both 4.5 times larger than the US school system.
So it was gratifying to be able to share some new information through both our film and our first hand experiences in India and China with these future leaders of US government and the US educational system.
Even though our film was their first introduction to high school in India and China, the graduate students proved to be quick studies. They were able to articulate strong opinions on the flaws in the other education systems and were very adept at defending the strengths of the US education system, such as equal opportunity for all and the quality of outcomes.
The Graduate Education School students, in particular, had strong views on the film. Most argued that the US education system is superior to India and China because it puts less stress on the students and less emphasis on rote learning of math and science. A few in the group, however, seemed open to the notion that we might have something to learn from India and China. One thought bandied about was what if we treated education with as much intensity, investment and passion as we do high school athletics, students might benefit intellectually.
Given my observations and experiences in all three countries over the past 30 years, I have to agree with the latter group. Our current “group think” about education must change – more of the same is not going to prepare American students for global competition.
I suspected this thinking would be the minority at Harvard, but I was surprised by the passion with which many defended the status quo…and therein is the crux of the problem, in my view.
Fortunately, there are people in education who want and demand change, and yes, they're a minority voice. We have one of the most respected voices in our film -- Shirley Ann Jackson, who authored the report "The Quiet Crisis" which led to "Rising Above the Gathering Storm." I’m sticking with her.
All in all, I have to admire the self-confidence the “best and the brightest” at Harvard demonstrated in the discussion and I appreciated the opportunity to have such a lively discussion with so many smart future leaders. When we sat down to create this film, we set out to make a film that would shake people up -- not put people to sleep. Looks like we've been successful.