Directed by a schoolteacher, this film became a lightning bolt in the immigration debate as the Rockefeller Foundation labeled it "One of the most important films on American race relations." Hoover Elementary is located in Pico-Union, known as the 'Ellis Island' of Los Angeles. After the passage of Proposition 187 into law, teacher Laura Angelica Simon feared she would be forced to turn in her undocumented students to the INS. She was equally disturbed by the support the Proposition was receiving from teachers, even though it would harm their own students. Armed with borrowed equipment, Simon began chronicling this troubled and divisive chapter at Hoover Elementary. NPR calls the result, "A story that veers unexpectedly and characters transform before our eyes...it's astonishing to watch." Ideal for courses in Education, Public Policy, Chicano Studies, Ethnic Studies, Political Science, Sociology, American Studies, Multicultural Studies, Race Relations, Anthropology and Psychology.
"When I grow up I'm going to be a person who fights for this country. I'm going to be an important person. I'm going to a good college... I'm going to fight for [people]... I want them to come to me and say, 'Thank you.' I want to be a lawyer." Mayra, a fifth-grade student from a high-poverty school in Los Angeles, is one of the central figures in Laura Angelica Simon's Fear and Learning at Hoover Elementary. Mayra lives in a small apartment with her mother and uncle, both undocumented immigrants from El Salvador. Like many of the students and parents of Hoover Elementary, a school in Pico Union (often described as the Ellis Island of Los Angeles), Mayra fears the ramifications of California's Proposition 187, which denies health care and public education to undocumented immigrants.
Simon, a teacher at Hoover and an immigrant from Mexico, unravels the complexities of the Prop. 187 debate and its impact on Mayra and other students at the school. She effectively weaves together the stories and voices of students and colleagues into a collage that powerfully illustrates the awareness and lack of awareness, compassion and lack of compassion, and anti-racism and racism that exist at Hoover. In doing so, she introduces critical questions that cut across many educational issues: At whose expense do these public policy debates occur? Why do we bring policy debates regarding immigration into a context such as education, where children--those who have the least control over where they live--experience the most intense and detrimental impact?
Fear and Learning is progressively unique in both form and content. And it continues to resonate during our current educational era in which teachers have little or no voice in local and federal policy that governs their roles and responsibilities. Simon offers a distinctive teacher perspective--one informed by her own experiences and her love and respect for students. She goes a step further by including student voices and perspectives, reminding the audience that, despite popular belief, even elementary school students understand and experience the politics of difference. In fact, as this film shows, students often offer deeper and more critical insights than adults.
Awards: Sundance Freedom of Expression Award, Emmy nomination, DuPont Columbia Award
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