Breaking Boundaries with Video Production: Inteview with Steve Goodman
This interview originally appeared in Strategies for Media Literacy newsletter, spring 1993; reprrinted with permission of the author.
Since 1984, Educational Video Center (EVC) in New York has trained and assisted hundreds of young people in producing award-winning broadcast quality video documentaries. But to EVC Founder Steve Goodman, the goal is not external rewards but internal transformation. In this excerpt from an interview conducted in 1993 by Kathleen Tyner for Strategies newsletter, he explains the importance to media literacy of young people creating and producing their own video documentaries. In addition to publishing several excellent handbooks for video production, Goodman published in 2003 a major new work: Teaching Youth Media: A Critical Guide to Literacy, Video Production and Social Change.
SML: What's the EVC philosophy of education?
Steve Goodman: Our philosophy is based on having kids start with their own lived experiences and then looking at other experiences and problems. They inquire about issues in their own communities and deepen that inquiry through research and through a continuous dialogue with other students and with the teacher. It's turning issues into problems that the students also then have an opportunity to try and resolve.
SML: Why did you decide on video?
S.G.: Because the effect of media is so profound. It's also accessible to them. It's the immediacy of video, too; the ability to manipulate video and then present it back to their fellow students and to the community.
SML: Could you recommend some books that influenced your work?
S.G.: Paulo Friere's Pedagogy of the Oppressed and John Dewey's Experience in Education and Democracy. Henry Giroux's work is really important. And the work of Michelle Fine. She's written some articles on the question of silencing. Young people, particularly teenagers who are low-income, working class, who tend to be more marginalized in our society, don't have a voice. Putting the media in their hands is a way of helping them find a voice. Very often kids are silenced by the institutions of our society, in the classroom or in the home. Video gives them an opportunity to talk back.
SML: Schools can be so resistant to new things! How does EVC fit in?
S.G.: I think that media education is really tied to the efforts of school restructuring and reform, like the Coalition of Essential Schools and Foxfire. I feel that we have principles and practices in common with the restructuring people. Schools don't have to be about silencing and marginalizing kids. If school is a place that is learner-centered where the kids are determining the direction of their learning based on their own lived experiences, the school can be extremely liberating.
SML: How do you teach media education?
S.G.: There is no way to prescribe "this is how to do it," but I think there are some general principles that make up what I think is sound education. Some of these practices have become buzz words, but the point is really to make them work. The goal is to help them be more critical thinkers and self-reflective as lifelong learners. Our society is about specialization and putting things into different compartments. Part of what we do at EVC is to break down the boundaries between schools and communities, between artist and audience.
SML: Are your students aware of the audience?
S.G.: The kids are very much in touch with who their audience is and have the opportunity to get feedback from the viewers who see their tapes. There's closeness between the producer and the viewer in our work. In a philosophical was, it breaks the boundaries between thought and practice.
SML: Have you found a connection between video making and reading and writing?
S.G.: Most of the students that we work with have learned to have a strong aversion to reading and writing and so making videos is really exciting to them. We insist that writing is a part of it. We want them to learn reasons for writing other than punitive or what they've learned to do as an assignment from someone else. We look at writing as a way to deepen their thinking and develop ideas. The writing is also a product that is open for discussion. There are other ways that we have them do writing. Portfolio assessments, for example. We have them do letters, not as an assignment, but because they need to get someone to agree to an interview. They have to learn to communicate. It's an outcome, not necessarily graded by the teacher, but a skill that is essential for them to develop what they have to say and how they're going to say it and then get a result.
SML: Why the focus on the documentary?
S.G.: Because I think that it is a wonderful way for them to bear witness to the conditions in their own lives and to document the problems that they may see and the solutions that they might feel are effective. They use the community as a subject of inquiry. They produce the documentary. They synthesize what they've found and then they give back what they've found and open it up for discussion, in order to galvanize people's thought and move them toward action. There is the understanding that they can participate in the culture and history of their community. In documentary, it's a more sustained exploration into something and it gives them the opportunity to grow and develop over the course of a 20-week term.
SML: How do you balance process over product?
S.G. There is a constant tension. It's a project-based way of learning, but you have to be sure that the process is not lost or sacrificed because you're trying to finish a project. At EVC, everyone has to contribute to all the different aspects of the project.
SML: What's the role of the teacher in this?
S.G.: It's a group process and the instructor is a member, the most mature, experienced member, of that group. The instructor has the responsibility to ensure that all the members are growing and learning and experiencing. That also speaks to breaking stereotypes. It's not fair for the boys to be using the equipment while the girls only do the phone work or are on camera. If it's truly collaborative and student-centered, the students and the teacher will talk about that, but it's still something that the teacher has to think about. The instructor has to judge a lot of things and be conscious that there is a product that we want to get out and there is an audience out there with certain expectations. So there's the process, we want to make it fair, we also want to make sure that there's a profound kind of learning that's going on. And then when things are going too smoothly, it's time to shake things up.
SML: Everybody wants to be EVC. How can we make this unique process available to others?
S.G. It can't be franchised and efforts at mass producing EVC demean it. It's false. It should be something that's home grown to the particular conditions of an area. It isn't something that just works with urban young people. But it is a way of learning that, as Foxfire has demonstrated, can be taught across the country. It's a matter of exposing people to particular principles and then seeing how they can make them their own. It's getting teachers to talk to each other more about how this kind of method works and sharing tapes and getting students and young people who've done it to talk to other young people. It's about empowering people.