While watching The Blind Side with Sandra Bullock I felt the sting of my past come spiraling back at me. There are so many controversial subjects this movie has brought to the surface that it is hard to pick one over the other and say it the most important. Few movies make me cry. This one did. Unpleasant memories from my childhood and struggles with my children when they were young replayed as I watched the story unfold.
The Blind Side for those who have not seen the movie is about a young African American boy of 17. He spent seventeen years in the foster care system, being sent from one home to the next. Each time he was sent to a new home he would run away. At seventeen he was sleeping on the couch at a friend’s house, the friend’s father, under pressure from his wife, to find other arrangements for the young boy speaks to the coach at a local Christian school convincing him that the boy has great athletic ability. The coach succeeds in his appeal to admit the boy. Our young boy is tall and everyone calls him “Big Mike.”
The school is apprehensive. The teachers clearly are against admitting Big Mike. Big Mike’s school records are incomplete. Are the teachers concerned about Big Mike? Do they see an opportunity to help a young man in need? No, their concern appears to be that he isn’t teachable, that his I.Q is too low for him to be successful. There is a scene where Sandra is sitting with a school official. She is discussing Big Mike’s school records. His existing career test scores are dismal except for one. Big Mike scored in the ninetieth percentile in protective instincts which was obviously learned when Big Mike was shuffled from foster home to foster home, a survival skill.
Later, another discussion takes place between the teachers in their lounge. They say that Big Mike doesn’t respond in class that he can’t do the work. One teacher interrupts her colleagues telling them, “But, he writes.” She takes out a crumpled piece of paper she says Big Mike had thrown away, and reads what he has written. Big Mike writes that all he sees in school is a sea of white. What is very striking is how expressive the writing is. The only response to Big Mike’s eloquent writing was a concern by one of the teachers who asked if his spelling was correct.
I grew up on the south side of Chicago it was a rough neighborhood. Growing up I learned how to emotionally protect myself I developed street smarts; I also experienced the routine of our schools routinely passing students through the system without assuring that they had acquired the appropriate skills for success in each grade. When I look back on my school years my inability to concentrate was a major issue. The teachers lecturing at the front of the class were nothing but taking heads to me. Because I did not understand I couldn’t concentrate so my mind was always off somewhere in space. I excelled in music. My artistic talent was recognized as young as the third grade. However, there was no one in my life personally or in school that supported my artistic talent. In fact, since I was female my family thought I’d just get married, so school was not important and in no way did anyone see my artistic as an asset. I quit school when I was sixteen and went to work full time. Working every taught me the life skills I needed. I didn’t miss school.
Fast forward twenty years and my children are now in school. We live in Countryside, a Chicago suburb. I made a conscious decision that my children would not attend a school that would just “pass them along.” I could not have known they would be confronted with a different kind of ignorance. There were parents within our neighborhood that believed that education was a waste for “a certain type of student.” I once had a conversation with a school board member who actually told me that they felt “blue color workers weren’t educated enough to know what was best for their kids.” The same school board member once asked me why I was fighting her proposal to improve the curricula of “our” school.
Her proposal stated that the school needed to spend more money improving gifted education. According to her “your daughter would be learning so much more,” if her proposals were adopted. My daughter was not in the gifted program in school, but was an excellent test taker, played basketball, soccer and was a cheerleader. She was doing well in school. My son however struggled. He had trouble paying attention. He excelled in music, art and was the top runner in school, always in first and second place in all the school meets. In high school he broke an eleven year running record in the 400 yard dash. Yet he did not test well. He struggled in school. The school board member only knew that I had a daughter. When I told her that I would not chose which of my children would get a better education, and that I would fight her to make sure “every” student in our school received an equal education she never spoke to me again. My past had come full circle. I would not let my creative athletic son or any other student be ignored because ignorant people did not understand that lecturing to students and test taking was not the only way to determine if a student is learning. I did well in a work environment because I am a visual learner. I learn by watching, analyzing and determining a course of action.
Big Mike was not dumb. His rough life had taught him skills that a teacher lecturing at the front of the class couldn’t. When one of the teachers at his school discovered that reading the assignments and tests to him he could answer the questions. He was an auditory learner. How many bright students are lost, because we will not willing to go the extra mile to let students find their strengths. Our educational system today is based on test taking. I wonder how many bright students like Big Mike are being labeled dumb, because of our misguided way of determining intelligence.
Big Mike graduated and went to college. I returned to school. Today I am a senior at Columbia College in Chicago which is an art school. In my core classes my teachers have allowed me to make my presentations using my art talent. The teachers have made it clear that their objective is to know that I have learned the material and not just memorized facts from the textbooks. I cried when Big Mike crossed the stage and received his diploma. Next spring I will cross the stage at Columbia and receive my diploma, I will be thinking of Big Mike, my son and daughter and others who have taught me that there are many ways to learn.
The Blind Side 2009 / PG-13 / 2 hrs, 8 min
Director: John Lee Hancock
Cast Overview: Sandra Bullock, Quinton Aaron, Tim McGraw, Catherine Dyer, Catherine Dyer ,Jae Head, Lily Collins, Ray McKinnon, Kim Dickens, Catherine Dyer, Kathy Bates