Lessons to learn from 96% college acceptance rate: Documentary by 20-year-old Taiwanese filmmaker examining test-driven education premiering in NYC
"Preparing for 3 years just for today and tomorrow's tests." "Fighting for BCT!" - Slogans posted in the classroom
Is studying for tests necessarily involuntary? Or, it may be a source of feeling secure?
At the age of 14, Adler started to explore how education could be less test-driven while being more liberal, enabling, and meaningingful by making a documentary, filming his best friends’ high school entrance exam results when they were studying at an alternative junior high school free from the restaints of stardardized testing, scores, and rankings to allow the exploration of students’ own callings. However, athough he had his hypothesis justified -- those friends who learned in a more playful way did get higher marks in the entrance exam, compared to the one who thought “studying for tests is the only way to guarantee success in life” -- he started to realize something more serious: With the emergence of standardized testing, these friends started sacrificing their talents, passions, ideals, and hopes merely for the sake of getting higher marks, regardless of the fact that they were in a learning environment that was supposed to be unconcerned about test results, and how open-minded their parents supposed to be.
“People--including my best friends--started to behave in ways that are almost the opposite to the ideas and values they said,” Adler recalled, “As a 14-year-old, I really couldn’t understand and got really perplexed: How could this be?”
Initially a community college project, unschooler Adler decided to continue to trace his best friends’ lives to see what is the thing, and why and how does it change their lives--which he eventually followed them from junior high school their last year of college. In order to get a more comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon, Adler also started reading research papers, and did over hundreds of interviews with students, parents, educators, administrators, reformers, entrepreneurs, and policymakers in-and-outside of the system from Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, and eventually to America to talk with great thinkers including Sir Ken Robinson, Yong Zhao, and Yaachov Hechtl. He even put himself into a high school entrance exam taker’s situation to experiment the system, but eventually got himself trapped and lost inside as well.
What was learned from filming If There Is A Reason To Study
“In order to compete for the right to make our own life decisions, we easily sacrifice exploration and self-awareness thoughout the process counsiously or subconsiously to meet the systems’ expectations or requirements.” Wrote Adler in his director’s note, “But when the choices are finally in hand, we so often lost the confidence and clarity of who we really are, what we really need, where we really want to go, and therefore, what life decisions do we really want to choose.”
“I ended up realizing my film isn’t just about education,” said Adler, “It’s also about how easy ‘playing the game to change the game’ eventually makes us part of the game as well.”
His six year quest not only resulted as a documentary debut--If There is a Reason to Study -- which went on to win nominations and awards in film festivals from Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, to Indonesia, Adler also became a researcher experimenting with strategies and methodologies every year to systemically redirect the problems that students and youths face, instead of waiting for or demanding others to change.
Adler and his Awakening Lab's workshop "Design your own education" has engaged over 2000 parents, students, and educators from Taiwan, Hong Kong, to China.
“I believe this film would provide a valuable lesson to the American education system.” Said Adler, “If to look deeper, people might find how familar the situation is, as the protagonists gave up developing their passions and talents to focus on testing in order to return to the mainstream education system, while the American education is also on its way torwards more standardization from being organic, in the name of ‘college readiness’ and ‘competitiveness’.”
His film is selected in the 38th Asian American International Film Festival along with 8 other documentaries, including Oscar winner Ruby Yang and Venice winner Haibin Du’s works, and will be premiered at Museum of Chinese in America on July 26 at 1:00pm.
Tickets available here:
38th Asian American International Film Festival
Awakening Lab@Hong Kong
Official Website: http://reasontostudy.org
Trailers (2014 version)
Download the whole press release here: