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2.0 out of 5 stars Illustrating by Example, February 14, 2013
This review is from: Frontline: Dropout Nation (DVD)
The nation has a large dropout problem, especially as brawn jobs disappear and employers only offer brain jobs. This gives two hours of footage at an actual high school focusing upon four students. For middle-class Americans, this may feel like looking at the other side of the tracks. The big point that one gets from this footage is that dropping out is a multiply-caused phenomenon. These students are dealing with homelessness, teen parenthood, deportation of family members, and especially anger issues.

I never use the term "acting out" because I am not quite sure what it means. I really think it means different things to different people. But that term comes up here a lot because the students are having troubles at home or on the streets and they vent their anger at school. If you don't like watching youth mouth off to adults, then you don't want to see this work. If you hate people who don't know how to channel their anger appropriately or effectively, then you will want to punch a wall after seeing this. I really think the program-makers want viewers to sympathize with both staff and students. However, many viewers will leave feeling like the students are mostly to blame for their problems. Many other viewers may ask, "Where are their parents!?!?" At any given moment, most parents are not at their high schools. However, there are plenty of documentaries out there where you see parents visiting the principal or looking into their kids' problems at school. I think this work may have focused on parent-less children and I am not convinced that those students make up the majority of dropouts.

I'm also torn about this documentary due to "great white savior" coverage. Films like "Dangerous Minds" suggest that inner-city kids can't and don't have role models unless selfless, courageous white educators come to their rescue. Too often, teachers of color and adult mentors of color are rendered invisible in the media. However, I have a cousin-in-law who works at a high school in which he admits that the student population is 100% Black but the faculty is 80% white. He admits something I sometimes forget: not enough teachers of color are out there. Don't get me wrong: the program does show at least one Latina and one African-American staff member. However, the work focuses on a white female counselor and a white male principal. They have that soothing counselor style. It's quite opposite of my late father who had an authoritative, "Lean on Me" type of style.

This is not a movie, so the term "spoiler alert" shouldn't really apply. Still, I must say something about the ending. The four students are a Black female, a Latino male, and two Black males. The Black female dropped out. Nationwide, I think the numbers suggest that girls graduate at much higher rates than boys. Of the four, only the Latino guy graduates. I salute him. However, I think the numbers suggest that Latino high school students graduate at lower rates than African Americans. They have the added issue of ESL matters. Although this high school is located in Texas, limited English is not shown here and yet it's a huge problem. I can think of other reasons why teens drop out of schools (e.g., bullying, homophobia, gang problems, etc.). The silence on these and other matters may frustrate some viewers.
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