Recent stirrings surrounding Andrew Hacker’s NYT article, “Is Algebra Necessary?” have generated an outpouring of debate. Inevitably, reactions to his piece have bled into larger questions confronting our generation, resurfacing the most important factor (no pun intended) to the evolution of civilization: education.
At least we are asking questions.
Hacker’s arguments to do away with algebra are simplistic and thus flawed. There are deeper roots tied to algebra, not the least of which is using the power of abstract thinking and transferring such thought into concrete, practical terms.
Still, his skin-deep postulations are enticing. Like many artists, I go cross-eyed over the prospect of having to calculate when two trains will pass if one left the station at 80 mph and the other departs two hours later but 20 mph faster. My mind goes bezerk. Gosh, I think to myself, I hope they are on different tracks. And why didn’t people take the faster train? The math query is obviously insinuating that it’s getting to the destination first. Maybe it was sold out. Or more expensive. Do I have A.D.D.?? I invariably drift to wanting to cut to the chase and make a film about the train pulling up to the station with all safe and sound….
Wait… they already did that one….
Regardless, I understand the relevance of working through problems such as this. They help provide a foundation to think critically. It is not necessarily about getting the correct answers, but the acquisitive process.
Education is the one pillar that should nurture individual freedom and create equality of opportunity for everyone. In modern times, these ideals cease to have hope without it. Yet, in the most advanced society in history, our educational system continues to under-deliver as we subject it to inexcusable, short-sighted policy and politics. I cannot begin to wrap my brain around the vastness of human potential already lost.
At a minimum, our schooling should prepare and assist us in becoming well-rounded humans, equipped to think on our own and handle life’s variables. Alas, it seems kids were more well-rounded and adept at critical thinking when they studied philosophy, mathematics, science and literature in ancient Greece. That was 2300 years ago!
In any event, we ought to fix education, not eliminate it.
Personally, I cannot help but wonder where the arts stand in Hacker’s Hierarchy of Educational Relevancy. If he considers algebra too abstract, what of poetry, beauty and expression?
Tangential as this may sound, the arts fall victim to the question of necessity far more often than that of mathematics. Art under fire is – to me – as detrimental as any other academic purge. The arts are a pioneering force for innovation and allow students to think and grow independently and creatively. They take us from self-awareness to awareness; from self-consciousness to consciousness; from self-centeredness to our true potential.
In their most indoctrinating nature, the arts take the shape of stories that endow us with the ability to learn from the past and flourish in the future. They serve as both literal and allegorical interpretations of our thoughts and decisions, ultimately furthering the frontier of accomplishment and intellectual capacity.
Art is not about the correct answers, but rather the correct questions. It is about creation and response, which is really the proper recipe for any societal infrastructure. It is about the sometimes wordless, sometimes wordy message and parallel interpretation. It is about our mixed-up world of the necessary and unnecessary and how the two can coexist to provide balance.
It’s powerful stuff.
Uncle Ben said it best: “With great power, comes great responsibility.” As artists, we must confront our role in all of this. We must also ask the question: are we fulfilling our responsibility to educate through art?
I’ll take a shot at it, although, in the film industry, this is somewhat akin to answering when and where the two trains meet. Years of trial and error have rendered both successful and distressful results.
To channel my own experiences, I have found film, in particular, to be a very influential venue for educating, serving as an extension of ourselves and our purpose. But I often wonder if we are imparting the stories that should be told, or indulging those that would rather be heard.
Either way, it is interesting to consider the scope and imprint we make. As the media offers innumerable and varied venues, we should also consider our role as consumers. Those of us residually living off our education have the duty to continue nourishing our way of thinking. As proponents and prisoners of culture, we gather and divulge a landscape of opinions, approaches and execution determined in large by media. Our responsibility, as in education, lies not in eliminating outlets or opportunities, but working to build better ones.
Though there are many disputed components surrounding the film industry, I believe there is a notable silver lining for the silver screen: the film festival.
Film festivals were birthed for the underdogs, and any artist is naturally inclined to root for the underdog. Festivals umbrella a collective of artists who may not always come out on top, but refuse to give up. Resorting to surrender in any pursuit – education especially – is largely derivative of a lack of resources. This is an all too familiar obstacle for many (specifically independent) filmmakers.
One thing ancient Greece didn’t have right is that we are not victims of a predetermined fate. Artists have paved the way to shed the mask of Oedipus.
Festival circulation continually yields a new generation of artists and art: sometimes raw, often mind-blowing (especially when you consider their budgets), and always purer. For you arts-challenged, sports-lovers out there, think of the difference between college football (the fests) and the highly-paid professional teams (Hollywood).
Not only do fests across the world set a stage for networking and distribution, otherwise typically unavailable, they also combat the monopolization of Hollywood with a broader range of content, much of which challenges the norm.
The increasing popularity of the film festival has resulted in a strong presence across the globe. If Hacker’s Hierarchy doesn’t eliminate economics, then we can attribute such success to rising supply and demand emanating from quality of the product. Contributors and participants are deliberate in thought and pay respects to the festivals’ capacity to inform.
Film festivals are a summit for the exchange of ideas. Whether they ignite conversation about techniques, testimonies or two trains traveling, they serve the ultimate – and oldest – form of art and education: Storytelling.
-Erin Hallagan, Conference Director