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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


All They Deserve: Stories from the New York City Public Schools

Susan Zeig.

Anyone who follows the news no doubt has a bleak view of the state of the New York City Public School System. The media reminds us constantly that our school buildings are in disrepair, our classrooms are overcrowded, test scores are low,, curriculums are contested, funding is in jeopardy, and infighting reigns at all levels.

Nevertheless, in classroom after classroom across the city, a quieter and more encouraging story is unfolding. Progressive educators see the school system as one of the few institutions where children and their families can participate in a broad based common community. Working in very different neighborhoods and types of schools, with many different age groups, these teachers have come to the same conclusion as education pioneer Deborah Meier,

For many children and their families, schools are one of the few Institutions that can provide the experience of membership in an enlarged common community.

We have just completed a half-hour documentary called All They Deserve: Stories From the New York City Public Schools. It has four self-contained stories, showcasing examples of creative teaching, where teachers are stimulating students to become engaged and active participants in the world While the schools featured are in New York, it is already clear from showings with parents and teachers in San Francisco and Boston that these stories are common to most urban neighborhoods, and the audience members feel an immediate connection to the experiences on screen.

On screen are smart, articulate young people expressing their opinions and sharing their new knowledge. We see: 'at-risk' high school students who many people had already given up on studying environmental science in lower Manhattan, Queens junior high social studies students who use the NYC History Fair to explore the world outside the classroom, Manhattan first graders whose teacher uses an interview-based method to help her students make connections to the world around them, and first and second graders in a dual-language school in the Cypress Hills section of Brooklyn whose parents were so frustrated with the education options in their neighborhood that they started their own public school.

All They Deserve shows that despite the odds, innovative public education is taking place, and that there are many ways in which citizens can work with one another to help more students get the education they deserve. CNN and NPR commentator, Maria Hinojosa is the on-camera guide to this story.


Susan Zeig  (United States)
Director of Film
Department of Theater, Film and Dance School of the Arts C.W. Post Campus
Long Island University

Zeig became a Professor pf Film in 1980 and she divides her work life between making documentaries and teaching people to make their own media, to express their stories and ways of seeing the world on tape and film.

  • Video presentation showcasing four innovative NYC public school situations

(30 min Conference Paper, English)