The First Grader: A Movie to Inspire Adult Educators

June 21, 2011 at 2:31 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Community, Teaching | Comments Off on The First Grader: A Movie to Inspire Adult Educators
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Last time I blogged, I told you about one of my all-time favorite books, Mountains Beyond Mountains, and how re-reading it last month brought about some much-needed introspection in regards to my post-AmeriCorps immediate future (disclaimer: if one more person asks what my plans are for the fall, [unless your intent is to offer me a job or to make my graduate school decision for me] you may force me to respond with something to the effect of underwater basket weaving.  Kidding.  Kind of).

Anyways, in keeping with the pop-culture recommendation of my previous post, I thought I’d tell you about a movie I recently saw with my cousin that I loved and think you will too.  The First Grader is based on the true story of an 84-year-old man from Kenya named Maruge (Oliver Litondo), who spent his youth fighting for his people’s independence.  Maruge is of a tribe of people who were almost singular among Kenyans in their efforts to withstand colonial oppression, to the extent that they were interned in detention camps where they were met with horrific persecution.

When Kenya gains its independence, the government establishes a program of free, universal education.  While not explicitly delineated, this free education is intended to be for Kenya’s youth.  On the registration day, throngs of parents and children flock to this little country school to sign up, but when everything is said and done, there stands Maruge, this 84-year-old man who wants to register for school too.

He’s turned away, but returns day after day until teacher Jane Obinchu (Naomie Harris), who is so moved by his determination to learn how to read (you’ll have to watch to learn why), accepts him into her first grade classroom.  As the story progresses, there are intermittent episodes of Maruge’s neighbors’ outrage at an 84-year-old going back to first grade, this selfsame man who spent his own youth being tortured for his country peoples’ freedom; as well as the heartwarming, archetypal exchanges between the aged and youth.

Viewers can love this movie from so many different angles, but as an adult educator (who counts among her students an impressive handful who are well into their eighties), this movie struck a special chord in my heart.

I hope that you get a chance to see and become inspired by The First Grader as well!  (FYI: I saw the movie a couple weeks back at Bethesda Row Cinema, so if you’re interested I think that you’ll have to hunt down a theater like Bethesda Row that plays movies of the more “artsy/independent” persuasion).  Enjoy!


-Alicia Nieves, Lead Teacher and AmeriCorps Member

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