Takeaways from “American Promise”

You may have heard about the new documentary film, American Promise, which depicts the educational journey of two African-American boys from their kindergarten days at Dalton through their matriculation into college.

I saw the film on Sunday at the New York Film Festival and attended a question-and-answer discussion with the filmmakers — parents of one of the boys — afterwards. I’m looking forward to talking about the film and the issues that it raises with interested parents next week.

As the film shows, African-American children in independent schools face particular issues that deserve our attention and require the sensitivity of the community. At Metropolitan Montessori, we are committed to diversity, and to helping each child reach his or her potential. To do this requires the partnership of teachers, children, and parents; and open and honest communication about the child’s needs and the school’s expectations.

Our Montessori framework does not require children to develop in lock step. It acknowledges the unique makeup of each child, and provides outlets for self-discovery, self-expression, and the development of personal responsibility. When there is disappointment, when there is struggle, we work together to build the resilience that will help the children through other inevitable difficulties in their lives.

The filmmakers, Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson, talked about the film with National Public Radio last week. Said Brewster: “We didn’t come with a manual. We’ve probably read everything that could possibly be read about parenting and parenting African-American boys and still we struggled. But for us, the take-home message is that if you put in the time, the kids will thrive. If you engage the teachers, the teachers will change their perceptions. I wouldn’t call us tiger parents, but I would say that we’re not kitty cats.”

I would expect no less from our MMS parents.

Parenting is complex. Children are not carbon copies of ourselves, and we have to work at understanding who they are, who they are becoming, and how we can best support their needs. Unforeseen circumstances arise that create challenges. Our best intentions sometimes get in the way. We all care about doing the best we can for our children.

The film is showing through Oct. 24th at Lincoln Center, and at the IFC Center through Oct. 31. Information is available here. It will air on PBS in February.