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Going to School (Ir a La Escuela): A Film Review

By Jennifer Perry (JenPerryIID@aol.com)



Richard Cohen produced and directed "Going to School" ("Ir a la Escuela"), a film which chronicles the school-going experiences of several disabled children of Hispanic descent in the Los Angeles School District. The film offers a unique perspective of both the child, and the parents who fought for their children’s inclusion into mainstream, regular education classes. The role of the parent as an advocate for both his or her own child and other children is especially emphasized, as well as the need for educators to become more aware of the particular challenges that students with disabilities face at school. The Latino emphasis on family involvement is also at the forefront of this excellent film.

Giving the Issue Faces and Names

I would argue that much of what is written regarding disabled children’s rights to a regular education has to do with legalities, laws, and other legislative issues. This film deals with these issues of the required Individual Education Plan (IEP), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) etc, but on a more personal and approachable level. In essence, the film deals with the confusion and lack of information that can be associated with educational services for children with disabilities by presenting personal stories of how parents fought for their children’s rights and learned more about the legal issues in the process. This is especially helpful, I think, for immigrants who face language barriers that prevent full comprehension of all issues surrounding mainstreaming, services, inclusion, and IEPs. It would also be helpful for any parent who is hesitant about challenging or unsure about how to challenge the local education system.

Also, so many projects on disability deal with it as some abstract issue needed to be researched. Journals and other forms of media, while they relay information, often dehumanize the issues so they appear more objective. This is an excellent approach for some target audiences, such as those found in academia and the policy and legislative circles. However, it fails to address the needs of parents, educators, and other individuals involved in advocating for and responding to the needs of disabled children in school. The child becomes a policy tool rather than an individual. In this documentary, we see real children facing real daily challenges and persevering through it all. We see individuals integrated and accepted by their classmates. It gives the issue names and faces to go along with it. This could be helpful for other children who are facing these types of obstacles to see there are others who are also in similar situations. It gives the parents hope that their own children can also become part of a social community, succeed in education, and have equal opportunities.

Unique Look into the Role of the Parent and Culture in the Education Experience

"Going to School" adequately addresses the important role of the family in the Latino culture. When the documentary first begins, we meet Richard, a Latino middle school student who has cerebral palsy and is also deaf. His mother, not knowing that he could have an aide in the classroom, spent 3 years going to school with her son as well as fighting for his inclusion into mainstream classes. Richard’s mother now volunteers at a parent information center, helping Latino and other parents understand their children’s rights to education and services in public schools.

This small story illustrates the importance of parental involvement in their children’s educational experience, especially when they face unique challenges. Elements of Latino culture and family values are also emphasized, as they should be. Richard’s mom took it upon herself to make sure her child’s needs were met and also gave back to the community, in a sense, by demonstrating to other parents that they also need to do that. We see, through her perspective and that of Richard’s teacher, that mainstreaming him into regular classes has had a positive effect on his development. This is a result of, I would argue, the intense interest that the mother had in her son’s education and development.

Final Thoughts

Richard Cohen makes an excellent attempt to fully capture the real experience of children and parents with disabilities as it relates to education. Through interviews with educators and parents alike, he addresses the need and interest in complete integration of disabled children into regular classes, while still accommodating their own personal needs. Although this film only deals with the experience of Latino children in the LA school district, I would argue that the film addresses the larger issues of the nationwide need for mainstreaming for all children, including those of Latino heritage.

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