May 2013        

The Progressive Film Club
—An inspiration and an education

Some four years ago this writer came across the Progressive Film Club, a group set up by volunteers interested in showing films about workers’ rights, immigrants’ rights and women’s rights and generally the struggles for people’s rights, which you won’t find in your local cinema or that little box in your living-room.
     For me it has been an inspiration and an education. It’s uniqueness is that it is free—yes, they don’t charge you to watch these films.
     On Saturday 13 April I went along to that wonderful hub of Irish culture in Dublin, the New Theatre in East Essex Street, and sat down with my kids to watch Tocar y Luchar (“to play and to struggle”), which tells a true story of how the Venezuelan state implemented “El Sistema.” This is a set of inspiring ideals that has led to an intensive after-school music programme that seeks to effect social change through the pursuit of musical excellence.
     El Sistema focuses on children with the fewest resources and greatest need and is delivered at no cost to participants. Its core values are that
• every human being has the right to a life of dignity and contribution;
• every child can learn to experience and express music and art deeply and receive its many benefits;
• overcoming poverty and adversity is best done by first strengthening the spirit, creating, as Dr Abreu puts it, “an affluence of the spirit”;
• effective education is based on love, approval, joy and experience within a high-functioning, aspiring, nurturing community;
• every child has limitless possibilities and the ability to strive for excellence; “trust the young” informs every aspect of the work;
• learning organisations never arrive but are always becoming—striving to include more students, greater musical excellence, better teaching.
     Thus, flexibility, experimentation and risk-taking are inherent in and desirable aspects of every programme. The film was truly inspiring and exposes the lie that one often hears—and that this writer has been told in relation to his own children’s secondary school in Clondalkin—that because of the lack of “professional” parents attending the school the children won’t aspire to much.
     I would urge everyone to watch this film and especially those on school boards of management and the many involved in the educational sector. Maybe even the present minister for education, Ruairí Quinn, could nip down to Essex Street for a special showing.

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