Home Latest News Radical – an inspiring film to provoke thinking

Radical – an inspiring film to provoke thinking

Thoughts from Peter Curtis

This article was first published at ARENA online

I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops. Stephen Jay Gould, The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History. (W. W. Norton, 1980, p.151).

Paloma Noyola Bueno this year (2023-4) became the first student in the city of Matamoros to graduate from college. Radical is the story of achievement, directed by Mexican director Christopher Zalla, is a must see for anyone in the teaching profession,and beyond. Jennifer Trejo plays Paloma, one of the students at the center of the film, along with lead actor Eugenio Derbez as the teacher, Sergio Juárez Correa.

Matamoros sits on the south eastern bank of the Rio Grande, a city not far from the Texas border town of Brownsville from which NASA runs hi-tech education programs and is home to Elon Musk’s Space X launching pad at Boca Chica. Matamoros once provided the labour to a now long-decline of US-dependent manufacturing industries and is home to one of Mexico’s oldest organised crime outfits, the Gulf Cartel. Ghe town so violent that filming on location was not possible. A town so impoverished that if a computer or laptop entered a home it would be sold to put food on the table. Beyond primary school, girls looked after babies and the home while some of the boys’ graduate into the literal dead-end of organised crime.

As a film, Radical is a straightforward narrative that tells an important story of global dimension. Its focus is the school itself and the pedagogical experiment Sergio embarks upon by applying the ideas of Sugata Mitra’s Minimally Invasive Education, an approach which places the inquiring student at the center of learning. He believes in the students’ potential to educate themselves and to become more than the narrow limits defined by their school masters. For those of us who work in education systems, we can only empathise with Sergio who suffers an ‘existential crisis’ from having to teach the curriculum from the set page to the prescribed test. The effect is soul destroying for both him, and his students. Sergio himself grew up in Matamoros beside a garbage tip as did Paloma. In 2012, Paloma was recognised as a standout. Something has to change but the enforcers of the status quo soon reveal themselves from within and without.

Sergio’s oppressed colleagues look forward to a promised bonus for improved standardised-test scores and accept that they are the ones being tested. That educating children within the confines of a state school should, or needs to be, radical in its intention says everything about the maleficence of the corporate-led standardisation and testing that defines the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM). along with Gillard’s serial-child abuse in NAPLAN.

Sergio’s principal does not understand why he wants to be in his school but is happy that to have another teacher, but cautions him not to ‘kick the hornets’ nest’. To encourage his students to think, work with, and value what they already know, and collaborate to arrive at a conclusion, is radical enough to stir the sting of the district director who stands Sergio down. Fortunately, his principal, albeit reluctantly, has the will to walk the political tightrope and manages to keep him on. Nevertheless, we get glimpses of life beyond the relative safety of the school walls; police, guns, and corpses are ever present, and family priorities of work and survival cannot afford the luxury of secondary education. Paloma’s father fears, not unreasonably, that Sergio is setting her up for unrealisable expectations which will leave her devastated.

While the Australian context is vastly different, the film makes the point that systemic underfunding of public education and peoples’ impoverishment combine to pose formidable obstacles to any opportunities to make and lead a fulfilling life. Defenders of tax-guzzling non-government schools here have to be prepared to defend their part in reinforcing the effects of inequality, for details see SaveOurSchools.com.au.

Further references





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