American School Class on YouTube

Maggie Fried

It is not unusual for a book or a novel that is assigned for a course to have a profound impact on the students reading it. However, not all students decide that the message of the book is important enough to share what they have learned with others. Yet, this was the case for students of Associate Professor of Educational Studies Barbara Regenspan’s American School class.

Each of the students in the class wrote a poem in response to High Stakes: Children, Testing and Failure in American Schools, a book describing the negative effects of testing on a poor Louisiana public school. A small group of students then met outside of class to compile all of the poems into one. The class edited the poem several times until the final product was completed. However, the class needed someone to help with the production of a music video.

“Our class felt so moved by this book that we decided to make a poem as a class about the images that the book provoked,” sophomore Granger Beaton said. “Then, Professor Regenspan had the idea to do a readers’ theater, which led to the music video. It wasn’t an assignment, but it took over a lot of our daily class time because we felt that we were doing something progressive.”

The class also got help from a student not directly involved with the class.

“The real turning point came when sophomore Daniel Cantor and first-year Lauren Washington identified a friend and fellow Colgate student, sophomore Robert Keo, as a person likely to be interested in helping us with both music and taping,” Regenspan said. “It was news to me that Robert was a skilled sound mixer and videographer, but no surprise. He responded to student requests immediately and after listening to us read the script, produced the sound mix you hear on the final tape.”

The video, “S.O.S Redbud,” is named after a poor school in Redbud, Louisiana, which was the subject of the book. In the video, several students who represent the American public, students, teachers and the government, are sitting around a table discussing the problems of the American School system. However, the actual discussion is made up of the poem, which is set to music. After completing the video, the class posted it on YouTube.com and also sent it to others to watch.

“People were very impressed with the impact we made, I feel like it was much more of a powerful video then we originally thought it would be,” first-year Carly Green said. “We’ve had a lot of responses from professors in other colleges and specialists who have complimented our class on the work we did and also, personally, I feel like we sent out a powerful message that people need to hear and realize is still important today.”

So far, the video has been viewed on YouTube over 2,000 times and has received comments from viewers that include “Thank you for addressing this issue which is so important to those of us in education” and “Nice work! Strong commentary on status of education today!” Beyond a response from outside viewers, Regenspan noticed the changed perceptions of the students in her class.

“I think many students in the class moved a step closer to realizing personal implicatedness in issues of social inequality as a result of participation in this video-making,” she said. “[Students began to realize] that research data is all around us. When we choose to live with our eyes wide open, we can experience our lives as social scientists and turn our observations into energy to make us more active citizens. The production of art is one possible means of contesting the passivity our current culture teaches us. We are all implicated in this currently non-sustainable social and material world.’