Teach Us All

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Teach Us All Movie Poster Image
Docu addresses the continuing problems of school segregation
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 80 minutes

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Positive Messages

While the documentary paints a bleak portrait of how hyper-segregation in American schools has considerably increased in the last 30 years and its negative impact on the futures of minority children attending underfunded school, a hopeful note is struck through the interviews with committed educators and administrators and in the actions of students who are working to improve their schools and communities. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The bravery of "The Little Rock Nine," African American teenagers who were the first African Americans to attend an all-white public high school in Little Rock, Arkansas in the 1950s, is brought to the forefront through archival footage and interviews with three still-living members. In addition to showing the continuing problems of de facto, residential, and triple segregation have had on the American educational system decades after the landmark Brown v Board of Education ruling, the documentary also highlights educators, parents, and students who are taking active steps to bring more diversity to the classroom and to help students from poor communities and underfunded schools get a quality education while trying to survive amidst the problems of systemic racism. 

Violence

Archival footage of the Little Rock Nine, the first African American students to attend an all-white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, attempting to enter the school while enduring all manner of physical and verbal abuse. Through interviews, three members of the Little Rock Nine look back on their experiences while attending the school, and talk of the fear, bullying, and shunning they experienced. A teen student talks of how his brother was killed. 

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What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Teach Us All is a 2017 documentary that takes a look at the segregation in American schools that persists decades after the landmark Brown v Board of Education ruling. Three still-living members of the "Little Rock Nine," the first African American students to attend an all-white public high school in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957, describe the bullying they endured from the white community while trying to attend the school, including verbal taunting, spitting, threats, and shunning from classmates. These testimonials are highlighted by archival photographs from that time of the Little Rock Nine as they approached the school. While the tragic message of the documentary is that, particularly in the last 30 years, segregation in American schools has gotten much worse -- with plenty of disheartening statistics to back it up -- the documentary also takes a look at the positive role models in the past (such as the Little Rock Nine) and in the present who are trying to bring about lasting change and diversity in the classroom. These positive role models are of all ages and backgrounds, and include students, teachers, administrators, and parents. 

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What's the story?

In TEACH US ALL, the persistent problem of segregation in the American school system is thoroughly explored. It uses the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court ruling that abolished state laws that segregated schools by race, even if the schools were "separate but equal," as a starting point to highlight the many troubling statistics of segregation in the contemporary American classroom. For instance, the percentage of minority students attending "hyper-segregated" schools has tripled since 1988. The documentary shows how residential, de facto, hyper, and triple segregation aren't limited to any particular geographic location, but occur throughout America. Throughout, the documentary strikes a hopeful note through interviews with students, teachers, administrators, and parents of all backgrounds who are trying to bring about positive change, diversity, and inclusion to our schools. 

Is it any good?

On a basic level, this documentary isn't teaching us anything we don't already know about the persistence of segregation in American society, and especially in education. What Teach Us All does show us, bolstered by sobering statistics that reveal the depth of this segregation, is how much work is still left to be done six decades after the landmark Brown v Education Supreme Court ruling that voided state laws mandating racial segregation in 1954, and the heroic efforts of the "Little Rock Nine" to desegregate a Little Rock, Arkansas high school by attending the school in the face of vicious bullying from the white members of the community. Discussions of de facto, triple, hyper, and triple segregation are highlighted with interviews with students who contend with these problems through no fault of their own except living in a low-income zip code. 

While the problems are fully explored, Teach Us All also devotes considerable time to the everyday heroes of all ages and backgrounds who are trying to fix the problems by bringing in more diversity and inclusion into our classrooms. The kids come across as the "adults in the room" so much more than the "leaders" who have done nothing to address these issues at best, or exacerbated them at worst. The documentary highlights these students, teachers, administrators, and parents who are trying to tackle these issues head-on, because, as one of the interviewees says, "Real change happens when the people who need it, lead it." These inspirational stories leave an optimistic takeaway in Teach Us All: While the problems remain daunting, all is not lost, and we still have the power to change it for the better. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about positive role models. Who are some of the positive role models in Teach Us All who, either in the past or in the present, are trying to bring about lasting change and diversity in an economically and racially segregated American school system?

  • What did you learn from this documentary? What about your school and community? Do you experience diversity in your classroom and community? How does your community experience the effects of racial and economic segregation? 

  • What solutions does the documentary present about bringing more diversity to schools? What ideas do you have?

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