For the past few weeks, director Davis Guggenheim’s (An Inconvenient Truth) latest opus, Waiting for Superman, has stirred up sentiment regarding the quality of U.S. education today. Widely available clips from the movie feature shockingly raw and honest (although admittedly, this candor is characteristic of Rhee) assertions from national education figures like Michelle Rhee, chancellor of schools for Washington D.C., that kids in her schools are getting a “crappy” education. Guggenheim drives his point home with rankings (meant to trip a very American competitive trigger) which places the U.S. behind too many other nations in regards to math and science.
But these numbers are nothing new. And Guggenheim’s praising of charter schools and vilification of teacher tenure have led educators, administrators, union leaders and educational activists to balk at what they call an “incomplete” picture of the story behind education.
So what has made this underground film strike a nerve? Admittedly, it’s a bit less underground than another film that focuses on education, Road to Nowhere, directed by Vicki Abeles (it’s hard to stay under the radar once you’ve won an Oscar). But more than Guggenheim’s prior successes, what most people talk about when they talk up this film is the kids. In debates over educational opportunity and access, and in speeches about what should be done to prepare our nation’s children for economic participation or to set them up to master the adult curriculum, it’s hard to hear what real kids think. This simple act of assuming that kids have the agency to tell their own stories has made all the difference in this documentary.
As we watch the lottery for a place in charter schools, and we see the potential students of these schools clutching their number, we’re moved by the idea that this scenario resembles a pro-sports draft – but only the stakes are higher and the participants embody more anxiety than bravado. But the most captivating moments involve a child speaking to camera, telling us why they want to learn.
This strategy has legs outside the documentary space. If you’re the president, in need of a little boost, call a town meeting among youth. Let them talk…Because when they talk, our words and ideas look and sound a bit better.
As market researchers, most of us have already learned this lesson. To prove a point, let kids speak it. To convey an idea or insight, show that kids are on to it. But the latest in political statements capitalizing on conversations with kids remind us that an authentic kids’ voice should serve as the starting point, not a last resort, for all our great ideas.
Witnessed the power of real youth voices rallying your team, stakeholders or consumers? Let us know...We're listening!