Night School

It may surprise you to find that rage and hope can happen simultaneously in your mind, but Andrew Cohn’s documentary Night School will show you how that works.

Cohn followed three people in Indianapolis, IN on their journey through the Excel Center for adult learning, a High School for adults who had dropped out seeking to return and graduate. This is not a GED program, it’s actual High School with a real diploma upon graduation.

Indianapolis has one of the lowest High School graduation rates in the country. The slice of the city seen through the eyes of Greg Henson, Shynika Jakes, and Melissa Lewis is grim, hopeless, and desperate. From this perspective you’d think for someone stuck there the only focus would be finding a way to Interstate 70 and leaving this blighted place as quickly as possible.

“High School students aren’t typically dealing with subsistence jobs and child care issues.”

There are reasons to stay. Greg powers through his efforts to clear his criminal record and get his diploma so he’ll have a shot at making life better for his daughter Khloe, who has just been diagnosed with epilepsy. Melissa, in her 50’s, set herself the task of finishing as a promise to her mother before she passed, a success goal for her in a life that hadn’t offered many goals or ways to reach them. Shynika was working in minimum wage fast food hell and sought better prospects through education.  

Young minds are more agile than adults and High School students aren’t typically dealing with subsistence jobs and child care issues.They work around distractions and stresses to get good grades and ultimately to pass the End of Course Assessment. The joy when they succeed is beyond description.

Rage comes watching the film when you realize what a relatively small thing it would be for our fantastically wealthy nation to ensure that every person has the opportunity-rich environment for learning that the middle class and wealthy do. If we started now we’d be a couple generations away from it but we could take on better public education along with the crime, drugs, and soul killing poverty that creates an environment with no incentive towards learning. This would not be an insurmountable goal for the United States if it was important to us.

Here’s the dirty little secret: it’s not. Our current headlong rush towards Oligarchy only works for the rich in the presence of poor undereducated people who do not vote. In particular this emergent system is heavily invested in keeping minorities and people of color from having a level playing field. Status is in the delta: there are no rich if there are no poor. Equality is a disaster for the wealthy who mean to stay on top. This is a twisted version of capitalism that has become a sickness in our culture. 

“It’s a wondrous moment when that dazzling light comes on in their eyes as they begin to understand and feel the power of their own minds.”

All three of the adult students in Night School finally do overcome the roadblocks in their paths, both institutional and self-made. It’s a wondrous moment when that dazzling light comes on in their eyes as they begin to understand and feel the power of their own minds.  

Slated for June 2017 theatrical release.

Night School  (2017) Directed by: Andrew Cohn. Starring: Greg Henson, Shynika Jakes, Melissa Lewis.

8 out of 10

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