The first time I saw Hidden Figures was mostly for entertainment purposes which is not meant to be slight at the importance of the movie. Hidden Figures is certainly historically significant but much of what I saw on screen I already knew.
NATE THE MOVIE CRITIC
It’s worth noting, I’m a huge moviegoer. I see almost everything that comes to the theater. So, when I purchased my first ticket I did so keenly interested in how well the story would be told on the silver screen. FYI: You can get your movie reviews from Rotten Tomatoes or you can get them from me.
The second time I went to see Hidden Figures, I went with a notepad. There were nuances in Hidden Figures that I observed the first time that I wanted to note so that I could share them with you. I hoped to bring to your attention some things I took away from the movie which I believe could enhance America’s educational outcomes.
CHANGING THE WORLD ONE PARENT, ONE CHILD AT A TIME
Unless you are new to this blog, you already know my feelings about our Nation’s educational system. With rare exception – wealthy zip codes aside – I believe the bulk of today’s youth are being done a grave educational disservice. A mostly intentional disservice – I might add – that will catastrophically ruin what’s left of the “American Dream”.
The future for the preponderance of America’s children is STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Yet the masses of American children are “graduating” or more accurately stated being processed out of high school only to find themselves unprepared for post-secondary education. The masses of American children are also completely unqualified for the wide-ranging employment opportunities in STEM occupations. This is the “American Nightmare”.
HIDDEN FIGURES REVELATIONS
There are a number of things to be taken away from Hidden Figures. For example, there are the accomplishments of three African Americans (scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians), there are the little-known contributions of American women (computers), and there is the illusion of race and gender progress since 1961. These are the easiest and most obvious things to see. These things are also like the smoke that hides the fire.
Thus, for anyone serious about reforming America’s educational system so that all children have a chance to maximize their potential, focusing on the obvious is not only misguided it is harmful. Because just as the sight of smoke precedes fire, the academic progress of all children and the equality of all people is hidden behind the cliché expressions and customary discussions that routinely follow the release of movies like Hidden Figures.
Often times, when there is a fire the root cause is hidden behind the smoke. In the case of Hidden Figures, the most important truths and the vital teachable moments are hidden in the details.
THE TRUTH AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH
I’m not going to use the movie as a vehicle to deceive or mislead you about the possibilities for your child or other children. I’m not going to tell you that Hidden Figures is proof of what all African Americans can do. I’m not going to tell you that Hidden Figures illustrates the power of women. And I’m certainly not going to tell you that Hidden Figures shows how far the Nation has come. To tell you any of those things would be disingenuous.
I will only ask you to look beyond the simplified commercialized packaging, the deceptive political messaging, and the dangerously misleading race-based rhetoric. Instead, I’m asking you to look beyond the surface, see the vibrant details because in those details is a formula that might help improve the educational and economic outcomes of our children.
THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS
There are so many details that could be examined but that would take more time than I’m sure you have to spend with me. Therefore, for the sake of brevity, I’m going to share four things that I believe are worthy of deeper examination.
1. Parents – Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson’s parents were keenly committed to their daughter’s educational outcomes. It is reported that Mrs. Johnson’s mother was a teacher. One need only reflect on the U.S. racial/gender and socioeconomic climate of 1918 – 1932, to know that it would not be a stretch to infer that Mrs. Johnson parents, would allow little to distract from their daughter’s primary and secondary education.
Can the same be said of you? Are you teaching your children at home from birth? Would anyone describe you as undistracted and keenly committed to your child’s educational outcomes?
2. Village – From the community members who helped subsidize the cost of being educated outside of Greenbrier County, West Virginia to the opportunity to be taught by college professors, it is obvious that an adolescent and teenage Katherine Coleman enjoyed an educational ecosystem that made it possible for her to blossom. The early years of Katherine Coleman’s life foretell the benefits of being a part of an engaged and conscientious community and being taught by highly accomplished and committed educators.
Besides you, who are the people committed to your child’s success? Does your child have an educational ecosystem that makes it possible for them to blossom? Are you raising a child capable of earning a STEM degree before their 20th birthday?
3. Urgency – Hidden Figures is another in a long list of examples of what America can and will do when faced with an emergency. The U.S. was desperate to beat the Soviet Union to the moon so employing women to help get us there first was a no-brainer. Race and gender took a back seat to national interests. Hidden Figures shows that America was out of options, go to the moon with women or stay on the earth with men.
Perhaps it’s time to consider how America’s educational outcomes could improve if we showed the same type of tenacity exhibited during the Space Race?
4. Luck – All the women in Hidden Figures were lucky. No, the women did not have a rabbit’s foot or some other charm in their possession. Rather, the women had the type of luck described by the Roman philosopher Seneca – “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”.
For example, Dorothy Vaughn Johnson who taught herself FORTRAN first earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics at age 19. There were no educational shortcuts or reduced expectations. There was no quick fix fad movement or well-meaning charitable organization that made it possible for Mrs. Johnson to become one of the first female supervisors at NASA.
Mrs. Johnson and the other hidden figures followed Seneca’s formula – they all mastered mathematics and science. They were all educationally prepared when their opportunity arrived.
Are your children educationally prepared for STEM opportunities? Have your children mastered mathematics and science? Are you doing what the hidden figures did to be prepared or are hoping for some quick fix?
There are other details that I could share but like the 127th minute of Hidden Figures, I’m out of time.
Suffice it to say, I highly recommend that you see Hidden Figures. Enjoy the movie for what it is – a good, wholesome movie that can be watched by all. Oh, and one last thing, if you truly admire the accomplishments of the hidden figures and believe your children can have similar success, don’t forget to look beyond the surface for the hidden details.