SPECTACLE FILMS, INC.
THE WAR ON KIDS
(USA, Color DigiBeta, 95 minutes, ©2009)
Winner of Best Educational Documentary
NY International Independent Film and Video Festival 2009
3050 Decatur Ave 1D
Bronx, NY 10467
Contact: Anne Leighton
THE WAR ON KIDS to run at Quad Cinemas, November 18 - November 24
THE WAR ON KIDS will be shown at the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street, in New York City, from Friday October 30 through Friday November 6. Truly a New York institution, the Quad Cinema has been showing the best of foreign and independent films since 1972. Family owned and operated, the Quad continues to book films which are unique, original, and intellectual to appeal to a loyal following of New York moviegoers. Film admission is $11.00 for adults, $8.00 for children and senior citizens. Tickets are available by calling 777-FILM #636 or on the web at http://www.movietickets.com.
THE WAR ON KIDS is a 95 minute documentary that shows how American public schools continue to become more dangerously authoritarian. In addition to failing in their mission to educate effectively, they erode the country's democratic foundation and often resemble prisons. School children are interviewed as are high school teachers and administrators, as well as prison security guards, plus renowned educators and authors including:
Henry Giroux: Author of Stealing Innocence Corporate Culture's War on Children
Mike A. Males: Sociologist, author of Scapegoat Generation
John Gatto: New York City and New York State Teacher of the Year
Judith Browne: Associate Director of the Advancement Project
Dan Losen: The Civil Rights Project, Harvard University
Dr. Peter Breggin: author, TOXIC PSYCHIATRY, TALKING BACK TO PROZAC
Music in the film is performed by The Chumps, Tommy Gardner, John S. Hall, and Laura Mayer with Scott Grinthal.
THE WAR ON KIDS is directed by Cevin Soling who won the NYIIFVF award for "best educational film" in 2009. His documentary, THE WAR ON THE WAR ON DRUGS won NYIIFVF's best experimental feature film. Cevin has directed and produced a number of films, including: RELAX IT'S JUST SEX starring Jennifer Tilly, Lori Petty and Cynda Williams; A HOLE IN THE HEAD, which was broadcast on Discovery and The Learning Channel; and URINE: GOOD HEALTH. He also created a number of animated works, including THE BILL JOHNSON SHOW, BORIS THE DOG (which broadcast on both MTV and the BBC), CAPTAIN STICKMAN, as well as the short film, DESTRUCTION.
Directed by Cevin Soling
Produced by Jeremy Carr, Dawn Fidrick, & Cevin Soling
Edited by Jeremy Carr
Post Production & Editing David Hilbert & Zack Sarzana
Music Martin Trum
Research Mary Martley
Executive Producer Cevin Soling
Blame for problems with schooling in America is often assigned to insufficient funding or the inherent failings of today’s kids. In rare cases, parents, teachers, and administrators are also implicated. However, all efforts to improve the quality of education are doomed to fail if the system itself is not examined and understood to be the most significant impediment. After over six years in the making, THE WAR ON KIDS reveals that the problems with public education ultimately stem from the institution itself. Astonishingly all efforts at reform consistently avoid even considering this to be a possibility and the future for children and American democracy are at stake.
In 95 minutes, THE WAR ON KIDS exposes the many ways the public school system has failed children and our future by robbing students of all freedoms due largely to irrational fears. Children are subjected to endure prison-like security, arbitrary punishments, and pharmacological abuse through the forced prescription of dangerous drugs. Even with these measures, schools not only fail to educate students, but the drive to teach has become secondary to the need to control children.
THE WAR ON KIDS begins with the history of “Zero Tolerance” policy. In the 1990s, almost all schools began instituting guidelines that were originally designed to keep weapons and drugs off campus. Very quickly, school officials began to arbitrarily decide what should be considered a weapon and what should be considered a drug. Hundreds of situations followed where children were (and continue to be) suspended or expelled for possessing food knives, nail clippers, key chains, chicken strips, aspirin, and candy. Kindergarteners were even suspended for playing cops and robbers and using their fingers as guns. Under the guise of Zero Tolerance, administrators have been able to wield tremendous power without the burden of responsibility and this authority continues to be increasingly abused. Students invariably feel despondent and fearful in the Kafka-esque state that has been created.
The film reveals that students’ civil rights have been virtually obliterated. They can be searched, drug-tested, denied the right to express themselves verbally and in print, as well as be physically punished without due process. They are routinely deprived of protection from self-incrimination and in some circumstances can even be strip searched without the consultation of parents. Courts typically uphold the rights of schools to behave in whatever manner they deem appropriate where children’s rights are involved.
Ultimately schools now look astonishingly like prisons in their structure and operation and the film shows that it is hard to tell them apart. A side by side comparison in the form of a tour displays the apparent inferiority of the average public school with regards to prison in terms of its resources and upkeep. Most disturbing of all, the school environment is clearly much more oppressive and dreary.
Schools have become obsessed with security and THE WAR ON KIDS shows how none of the profoundly invasive measures are effective. Security cameras were present at Columbine High School, for example, and did nothing to mitigate the massacre. From the students interviewed in the film, it is clear that cameras are unwelcome and breed paranoia and fear and may actually contribute to creating a hostile environment. Locker searches and metal detectors have been shown to be ineffective and contribute to creating an oppressive environment.
Police footage is shown from a 2003 SWAT team raid on Stratford High School high school students in Goose Creek, SC when the principal suspected illegal drug activity. In spite of the aggressive search involving guns and dogs, no drugs were found. The raid highlights the persistent scrutiny that students are under and the complete lack of boundaries that exist when children are involved.
Beyond physical intimidation, psychiatric abuse in schools is also rampant. Experts are interviewed about the epidemic of ADD and similar diagnoses. The preponderance of evidence is stunning and implicates drug companies in blatantly nefarious activities. Ritalin and other pharmaceuticals that are being heavily prescribed to children are not only physically harmful with lifelong consequences, but can and do lead to murder and suicide. What is presented as treatment is more dangerous and debilitating than the condition it is supposed to cure. In addition, the condition itself is clearly dubious, and the kids getting treated are often the ones who question teachers and authority. Invariably, these kids are drugged into submission.
THE WAR ON KIDS shows how schools are authoritarian institutions that by their nature cannot be reformed. Children are subjected to the most invasive forms of control and are deprived of the most basic and fundamental human rights that are afforded even to prisoners of war. The net effect is chilling not just for the kids who are subjected to these extreme forms of control, but also for American society’s future as a generation grows up with no first hand experience or understanding of civil rights in a democracy.
about the director
Cevin Soling is directing and producing a two part documentary series entitled, THE WAR ON KIDS. As an advocate for civil rights, Soling finds that children are the world’s most neglected group. “Lawmakers and judges continuously scapegoat children in the laws they draft and enforce and media is complicit by presenting youth as to blame for society’s ills.” The first of the two films focuses on schools and how the institution seeks to monitor and control every aspect of children’s life in an attempt to make them docile and obedient and deferential to all authority figures. The second film, currently in production, focuses on American society at large and it aggressive campaign of oppressing youth
Cevin Soling, president of Spectacle Films, Xemu Records, and World Watch Productions is involved in the entertainment industry as writer, director, producer, and artist. Soling wrote, directed, and produced the feature film, THE WAR ON THE WAR ON DRUGS, winner of the best experimental feature film award at the New York Independent Film and Video Festival, the Stoney Award for best documentary from High Times, as well as the “Clear Creek” Honorable Mention Award at the Winslow International Film Festival. The New York Times, in a rave review at the time of the film’s theatrical release in 2005, proclaimed THE WAR ON THE WAR ON DRUGS "...a lively and well-executed satire that sweetens its occasional truths with rebellious humor..." The film was acquired for DVD distribution worldwide through Warner distributed Ryko by The Disinformation Company. Soling also executive produced the independent feature RELAX, IT'S JUST SEX, starring Jennifer Tilly, Lori Petty and Cynda Williams, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was seen on HBO and Showtime.
As a writer, Soling penned the animated short film, BORIS THE DOG, which won the “Premio Nuovo” award at the Williamsburg Brooklyn Film Festival and was part of Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Animation Festival. The film aired as part of MTV's CARTOON SUSHI as well as on the BBC in England, where it was accompanied by an interview with Soling. His short films CAPTAIN STICKMAN and DESTRUCTION, which Soling wrote and directed, were official selections at 2006 Chicago Indiefest. Soling created and writes the animated series THE BILL JOHNSON SHOW, also featured in Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Animation Festival and in video compilation, “Caught in the Act,” released by Shout Factory. He has written a series of ten illustrated books under the heading of The Rumpleville Chronicles. The first three titles of the ten book series, The Jolly Elf, The Disciples of Trotsky, and The Bomb that Followed Me Home were released in the winter of 2008 through Monk Media.
In the documentary arena, Soling is produced and executive produced the hour-long documentary about trepanation, A HOLE IN THE HEAD, which won the Best Documentary Award at both the Atlantic City Film Festival and at the Brooklyn International Film Festival. A HOLE IN THE HEAD was broadcast on Discovery and The Learning Channel and is available on video through Beatnik Home Video. Soling also executive produced the documentary on auto-urine therapy, URINE: GOOD HEALTH, also available on Beatnik. Soling has just completed work on THE WAR ON KIDS -- a documentary on how public education in America oppresses of children. Currently, Soling is directing four film projects. Documentaries on the Ik tribe in Northern Uganda and on the John Frum cargo cult of Vanuatu are both in postproduction. A documentary on Gilligan’s Island as a reflection of the political and social climate of the early 60’s is in production; and, a film about the staging of a Swan Lake ballet performance featuring actual llamas in the roles of the swans and a jug band performing the Tchaikovsky score, is also in production. A preview of this project aired on PBS in Indiana, where the documentary is being shot.
In addition to his film work, Soling has been active in the music industry via his record company, Xemu Records. He was the songwriter, guitarist, and lead singer for THE NEANDERTHAL SPONGECAKE. Their CD, THE SIDE EFFECTS OF NAPALM, received considerable airplay across the U.S including major stations such as WLIR and WXRK (K-ROCK) in New York City. The song, Tastes Like Chicken was featured on the nationally syndicated Dr. Demento Show. Another song from the album, Buffalo, was the closing theme song for the A&E TV series Confessions of a Matchmaker. He currently writes and performs with THE LOVE KILLS THEORY – a band inspired by the Situationist philosophical movement and as well as bio-genetic studies on the evolution of despair. Their debut CD, Happy Suicide, Jim!, was released in January of 2007 and charted on CMJ’s top 200 and was played in rotation on over 70 commercial radio stations.
Soling has also served as producer for Jackie Chan, Ani DiFranco, Don Ho, The Smile Zone, and The Neanderthal Spongecake. He conceived, created, and executive produced the album WHEN PIGS FLY, a compilation of major artists performing covers of popular songs one would never imagine them performing. Among the artists featured were Devo, The Fixx, The Box Tops, Roy Clark, Jackie Chan, Lesley Gore, The Oak Ridge Boys, Herman’s Hermits, and Ani DiFranco. In addition, Soling conceived of and initiated the establishment of The Hard Rock Café as a live performance venue by touring Xemu artist, Scary Chicken, through the chain.
Outside of entertainment, Soling wrote programming code and was published in the computer journal On Three magazine. Soling, a member of the high IQ society Mensa, is currently a candidate for a Masters degree from the extension school at Harvard University where he is enrolled and also employed as a teaching assistant. In addition, he is awaiting an appointment for a diplomatic post with the U.S. Foreign Service where he received his security clearances and was given an employment offer pending an appropriate assignment.
“The Evil Children”
Written by John S. Hall
Performed by John S. Hall
“School is Cool”
Written by Lauren Mayer
Performed by Lauren Mayer and Scott Grinthal
“I Hate My School”
Written by Jeffrey McDonald and Steven McDonald
Performed by The Chumps
“Can’t Wait to Go to School”
Written by Tommy Gardner
Performed by Tommy Gardner
A BRIEF HISTORY OF COURT DECISIONS
THAT RESTRICT OR VOID STUDENT’S CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS
“In light of the history of American public education, it cannot seriously be suggested that the First Amendment “freedom of speech” encompasses a student’s right to speak in public schools.” – Justice Clarence Thomas
Ingraham v. Wright (1977)
Due process in not required prior to hitting a child in school and corporal punishment does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985)
Probable cause is not required prior to searching a student. Suspicion directed towards a specific student is sufficient cause.
Bethel School District v. Fraser (1986)
School may restrict student’s freedom of speech even if the speech is not disruptive.
Vernonia School District v. Action (1995)
Suspicion is not required to test students participating in athletics for drugs and tests do not need to be directed towards a specific student.
Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1998)
Schools may censor student newspapers.
Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls (2002)
Testing for drugs may be extended to students involved any extracurricular activity without cause or suspicion
Morse v. Frederick (2007)
Language that a principal may deem as promoting illegal drug use may be restricted and subject to punishment even if it is off of school property.
Q and A with the director
Who is to blame for the current state of public education? Are administrators too out of touch – are teachers deskilled – are parents not adequately involved in raising their kids – are students stupid, amoral, and lazy?
The problem with schools is school. The system creates the issues it decries and many have a hard time appreciating that. It is difficult to critique a superstructure that has been an integral part of society for over 150 years and one that most have complete faith in. The core belief is that if all participants embraced the system and accept their roll then everything would work efficiently and kids would be properly educated. This is the central lie that maintains the status quo. Even if such a scenario were feasible, the results would not be desirable. The main lesson students are taught in school is submission to authority and under the “optimal” conditions described, that message is simply accepted without resistance. In addition, failure is an essential part of public schools. If everyone were able to pass a test, the test would be made harder to assure a stratum exists whereby some percentage of the students would not pass.
Aren’t the problems with school mostly an issue of funding?
Lack of resources often makes a bad thing worse, although now that school funds are devoted in large part to security measures, more affluent schools often create worse environments for kids. I actively avoided going to schools in impoverished districts because their issues are apparent and well documented and I did not want to confuse the subject matter. The problem with school is their design – they are authoritarian constructs where students have no voice and exist in a prison-like environment with a commodity system of grades. Combine this with the way subjects are not integrated, time dictates when a lesson is over, and a dictum that insists all knowledge and direction must come from an outside source and you begin to get a sense that money has no impact on the fundamental nature of schooling and its success or failure.
Were schools better in the past?
Most assessments are based on nostalgia which is an extremely poor means of judgment. Studies by educational scholars Richard J. Paxton (2003) and Gerald Bracey (2000) have certainly exposed profound deficiencies in basic knowledge among college bound students from 1900 – 1950. In addition, it is quite obvious that women, minorities, and handicapped groups certainly had fewer opportunities and resources in the past. In short, there was never a golden age of public schooling.
Can public education be reformed?
No. The structure of schools is what defines them. They must be reinvented; however, examples of this do already exist. Could a new model that is more effective at educating and provides a healthier environment be adopted? Absolutely, but it cannot come through reform. A complete overhaul is required.
Why does the film not offer a solution?
The film is a documentary. Its purpose is to expose many of the problems inherent in the system and the plight of the overlooked victims – the students. When a filmmaker documents war atrocities, for example, no one asks him or her how the war should be fought or what action should be taken to exit or win. With school and war, there is no such thing as a perfect solution, though better scenarios certainly exist. When the shortcomings of any new proposal are exposed, many people use those inevitable failings to rally for the status quo no matter how grossly superior a new system may be. There is great resistance to change which stems from fear and I did not want to give those people fodder to dismiss the horrific state of public education by giving them something trivial to challenge.
Why did you make this movie?
I consider the film to be a civil rights piece more than anything else. Kids in America are horrendously oppressed and we have systems of propaganda which obscures that fact. The complaints people have about kids – they don’t want to read, they watch too much TV, they have no respect for authority, etc. -- are all a reaction to being repressed.
Kids are demonized and blamed for the degeneration of society. Virtually every community in America has a curfew law on their books while in most other countries, children are a part of the community and not excluded from public spaces. For kids in America, it is truly a fascist nation with terrible repercussions for the transgressors. On average, children are punished more severely by the legal system for comparable crimes committed by adults. In addition, many behaviors that are sanctioned for adults are considered criminal for a child, so there is a great degree of hypocrisy as well. Schools are part of this repressive system and their structure reflects the societal desire to have power over kids more than it does their desire to nurture creative thoughtful and inspired people.