Review of “American Promise”

On October 15, 2013, I had the privilege of seeing “American Promise” filmed by Brewster and Stephenson, two parents who chronicled the education of their son, Idris, and their son’s friend and schoolmate, Seun, at the Dalton School, one of the most prestigious private schools in the country.

Dalton had begun a campaign to increase diversity at the school.  As a result of the school’s desire to diversify, the parents enrolled their children there and began the documentation of their children’s education.  As the filmmakers began documenting the children’s education, they also decided to turn the camera on themselves and film their part in the process of their child’s education as well as the participation of the parents of the other child, Seun.  The film opens with a discussion of public school education versus private school education and with a discussion about the boys testing well on the admissions test for the school.  There is also a scene from the Kindergarten class at Dalton that is both engaging and experiential.  I immediately referenced my time in Kindergarten.  I wondered whether I would have been a science teacher if I had a class that was that engaging.

The film focuses on identity, on educational expectations, on parenting challenges, and on impediments to success. The parents soon realize that diversity is not enough and realized that there were many hindrances to success.  The filmmakers filmed over 800 hours of the education and of the life experiences of these two children which showed how daunting the challenges were.  The children enjoyed their time spent at the school in spite of its rigor.  The parents soon learned that their children would be recommended for tutoring because of the level of difficulty they were having with their academics.  Apparently the other parents at the school were spending over $35,000 for tutoring for their children.  The cost for Kindergarten in 1999 at the Dalton school was about $29,000. The film highlights the parenting challenges both academically and personaly.  The film documents the trajectory of the children’s education to the point of high school graduation. It also looks at the resilience of the children and its impact on their development.

One  purpose of the documentary is to initiate a conversation about the impact of race, parenting, expectations, and life experience on the education of African American boys in the United States.  As an educator, I have witnessed both students and teachers who have low expectations.  Moreover, I have also witnessed the low amount of effort that some of our children have toward their academics.  Although our children are resilient, we cannot discount the impact of significant life events on their academic and personal success.  The children who are most successful are the ones who work the hardest and who are the most resilient.

This film is not about the Dalton School; the events documented in this film happen throughout our country.  The purpose of this film is to initiate a conversation about how we can best serve our children, specifically black boys in America. I highly recommend this film.  Please go to for further information and for film locations.  It will be shown on PBS stations across America on February 3, 2014.  Please mark your calendar.  If anyone wants to have a discourse on this topic, feel free to contact me.

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