MU freshman premieres documentary on current education system

Tuesday, October 15, 2013 | 2:40 p.m. CDT; updated 5:38 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, October 15, 2013

COLUMBIA — Like many students, Ankur Singh has reservations about standardized testing. Those concerns inspired him to take a semester off from his freshman year at MU to travel the country and film a documentary about the subject.

Singh, who planned to study journalism, said he finds straight memorization to be pointless, crushing of his creativity, and too focused on testing rather than true learning in school. Singh attended Normal Community High School in Normal, Ill. 

Singh decided to take matters into his own hands. He dove into the issue, traveling around the country to film a documentary about the current education system.

Singh's documentary, "Listen," premiered Monday night in MU's Arts and Sciences Building. 

After collecting donations for his travel expenses through a Kickstarter campaign, Singh dropped out of school for a semester to spend the spring traveling to Colorado, Texas, Minnesota, Chicago, Cincinnati, Florida, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and New York. 

Singh trekked between public, alternative and home-schools and talked with a variety of people ranging from high-school dropouts to graduate students. All of them shared the same mindset: Standardized testing creates a flawed education system. 

"I started the documentary mostly because of my frustrations with school in high school and college and with the way the education is structured," Singh said. "Another big part of it was in the news, they don't really show the student perspective of education. I thought that was absurd; school is supposed to be for us but we don't have a say in what we want." 

The film focuses on the effects of standardized testing and the generation created by the No Child Left Behind Act. Singh found students, teachers and parents who felt schools put too much focus on testing rather than genuine learning. 

"When we are able to learn about what we want, we become more interested in the work and learn a lot more," Singh said.  "We become more productive when we aren't stifled about what we are forced to learn." 

"Listen" focuses on the negative repercussions of standardized testing. Examples in the film include anxiety in children, budget cuts in areas such as school safety, and a curriculum devoted to memorization instead of creativity. 

"If you do poorly on a test, your school might close and your teachers' pay and scholarships are based on that one test, so it's not about the learning," Singh said. 

Colleen Cutts, a junior at Hickman High School, was at the screening and said she found the film to be enjoyable and easy to relate to.  

"I was excited because standardized testing has always psyched me out," Cutts said. "I know a lot of other students who are high achieving but are not motivated to go to school because it's too stressful." 

Singh's goal for the film is to get the voices of students heard and for adults to stop and listen, as the film title indicates. 

"I hope it inspires other students to get their voices out there, and hopefully when adults see it they will try to include students more in their decisions," Singh said. 

Singh said after making the documentary he would like to pursue a career in teaching. 

Supervising editor is Stephanie Ebbs.

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