Tracking the Writing of SoTru, a biopic of social relevance

AngelaTerga

Formerly known as “I Am Sojourner Truth” screenplay by Angela Terga and Lateef Calloway.

First the visionary structure. On October of 2016, you saw me fly across the Atlantic to attend Linda Aronson’s non linear script writing master class at Ealing Studios in London. The workshop added confidence to how we, the writers, chose to structure SoTru, the screenplay I’ve been working on since the summer of 2015 with Lateef Calloway, the young independent producer and director whose mission is to bring forth the ultimate icon of feminism and equality through the life and works of Sojourner Truth. The nature and relevance of her teachings are just as pertinent or more today than ever. More than a year later, at the beginning of 2017, Lateef and I plan to meet for several days when we will scrutinize the screenplay, compare it to the Treatment, take notes and then polish the…

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Education and Democracy

Blog 2; 2016 Education and Democracy

I’m going to talk about education.

Women in Film are educators at the highest level. Film, using visual, auditory and emotional intelligences, has the power to call to action and/or to render its pupils useless globs of couch existence. But it is ultimately the most effective marketing tool being used to brainwash millions of young minds of all genders, racial, economic and cultural composition.

How well can film, including videos, video games, gifs, apps and social media in educational settings help to engage students? If the message is delivered following the marketing principles of the entertainment industry, I’d say we could turn on scientific and mathematical geniuses.

How much is being invested in progressive multimedia programming to enhance public school’s educational experience? Who is at the vanguard of the public’s social development? These are questions we should all be asking ourselves if we want education to yield better results. Nevertheless, it doesn’t do any good to teach computer programming in kindergarten if it is not combined with compassion.

Let’s use our smart phones to record science experiments, share them on social media sites and watch the same experiments performed in other classrooms across the globe. We can compare outcomes and conditions. Let’s make a storyboard using digital pictures and have narrators around the world create the script in different languages. Let’s use classic literature themes and retell them to modern settings. The possibilities are endless.

Small children may still love school starting out and if they’re lucky to have nurturing environments at their center, they will continue to develop their social and mental skills up to third grade. That’s the age in which the state thinks children should start to be stressed out and tested every two or three weeks. If you visit elementary schools you’ll notice how third grade teachers have puffy eyes, dark circles under their eyes, are overweight and constantly under suppressed strain. That’s because children come in from a fun second grade expecting to fall in love again but are hard pressed against endless hours of drilling both on computer based programs, isolated scientific and mathematical knowledge and meaningless stories. Please, social studies, the only time devoted to global learning, art, the emancipator of the brain, and its sister, music, are none but joyless empty rigors of “follow directions, shut up, sit still, and don’t make a mess,” if they have not been cut out to the minimal.

It hurts when children’s favorite class is Lunch or P.E. No wonder we have the greatest mental illness index in the world.

For twenty years, I labored behind these prison walls of the mind, schools. I was known as the crazy teacher, the one that dressed like she was a socialite, including hats. In my best years, thanks to dynamic leader reformers (there may still be some principal out there willing to take a risk), I created a mini farm organic project where students hoed and even learned to fish in the pond. We’d turn the classroom into a rainforest and the students into their favorite animals for Lynn Cherry’s Kapok Tree. We even made it into a play and invited other grades to the performances, which student agents scheduled. During science, we’d step out into the courtyard and use student made instruments to measure the height of trees, and buildings, just to give an example. We also had a collection of bugs pinned and classified using field guides. We used jazz syncopation to learn to read with student made shakers out of recycled materials and put on Greek theatre plays and modern ballets to teach recycling and medieval times. We even choreographed a living animal cell. One of my greatest challenges, a child with adaptation issues, already labeled as emotionally handicapped in 4th grade, took it upon himself to build amazing electrical projects with a hand-me-down box I got from another teacher. He was so enthralled with what he was creating I’d forget he was under the table immersed in reading and following the directions in the book and putting his genius to work until lunch time, when he wanted to be the first in line every day. I recall among his many creations was an interactive game in which the light bulb turned on if you got the right answer and a lighthouse.

These are just some of my fondest memories. However, due to how repressed I felt as a teacher not being able to implement more creative experiential, hands-on activities and in part my inkling to grow and expand my own horizons as a person, partially imbedded in me by a class of second graders (my only second grade class), I decided to move on. That’s when I dared to have a dream. I dream of making a profit from my books and screenplays, having a good life, being able to own a home and produce my movie ideas. As a teacher, being the last in the rung in the professional hierarchy, most likely due to the fact that most teachers are women and women’s liberation hasn’t reached equal pay or enough respect for teachers (no wonder students don’t respect us), I was not able to do so. All my salary and child support went to pay necessities that granted us a low middle class status. I believe teachers should not have to repay student loans if they work at least 7 years whether or not they teach at Title I schools or ESE populations. I have taught at Title I schools all 20 years and my student loan never diminished. Teachers should also receive lower mortgage loan interests. That would help if the salaries remain the same.

So I moved on to High School teaching thanks to a friend. Oh boy, was I in for a big surprise and disappointment. My rural high school students, where I was Librarian and TV Production teacher, stole my 35mm camera, my new MacBook, and my cell phone all in one year right from my office. The following year, I went back to an urban setting and taught at an all boys “leadership” magnet school. Here I remember asking God to deliver me from the flames of hell as I walked to the parking every day. High blood pressure, migraines, eczema, and general depression were a few of the medical conditions I developed that year. It didn’t help that I was also trying to finish the production of my first movie and premier it, as well as undergoing a rigorous MFA online program.

Now, when I contemplate going back to the teaching profession, I wonder, could I make a difference? If so, how? Will God match me with a one of a kind Principal who defies the rules? Or should I go into administration?

In my opinion, public education has been designed to keep the masses out of Ivy League. The curriculum is not designed to produce scientists and mathematicians, or doctors, or lawyers. It blurs and entertains the families with testing. It buys Readers that are money- makers for the publishing industry and probably the school districts’ superintendents that adopt them.  The stories in these readers (not all of them) are vapid and devoid of meaningful content. The regular public school curriculum in spite of and because of its testing frenzy doesn’t teach much of anything.

If I were to design my own curriculum, I’d start teaching astronomy using household stuff in first grade along with the principles of physics and the elements of the periodic table. I’d use the classics to teach reading, yes, Shakespeare in first grade, why not? I’d put on Greek plays every year instead of the Christmas parade and give them extra time creating their own music and painting with fingers where you can make a mess. I’d teach calligraphy, also in first grade, and teach science and math through daily labs and experiments, and visit a museum once a month. I’d teach etiquette, create action-based social activities against child labor and environmental destruction and use solar energy to power my school. Oh yes, and videography would be an integral part of the processes. Perhaps if the monies were employed where it counts and does the most good, we’d have fewer inmates, addicts and sociopaths.

These are just some of my ideas for better education. The test would be measured across time. How many kids, what percentage stays out of prison, develops their talents, gets into the Ivy League, graduates with science majors, becomes lawyers, actors, or artists?

The real test of the school system in any country is not how well students perform on these ridiculous achievement tests. The real test, the one no one talks about is how well the education system performs in the development of healthy social, physical, emotional, and intellectual individuals and groups. Obviously, in America, it fails well. Democracy in education, has not reached the thousands of young people marred with felonies, behind bars, and incapable of developing their talents due to monopolies and nepotism. Learning, like memory, is selective and what we put our attention to is what marks our reality. Let’s put more attention to education. What values are cultivated by movies, apps and video games?

Cinderella is in its thousandth remake, but I don’t know any girls who have actually married a prince. The latest craze is Star Wars, you mean to tell me that in 30 years there hasn’t been another original story out there worth developing? I call that monopoly of ideas.

Until we as consumers, parents and educators don’t change, the world we live in won’t.

Until we as consumers, parents and educators don’t change, the world we live in won’t.