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St. Valentine’s Day is with us once again, and this year, the guy most deserving of LOVE on a colossal scale is the courageous, controversial, and persistently relevant US social critic, Michael Moore. In the days after Bernie Sanders’ big win in the New Hampshire primary, American film goers have an opportunity to understand why the Democratic Socialist from Vermont has managed to put Hillary Clinton (dubbed the Democrat’s big money, establishment candidate) on the defensive. Moore’s latest film, Where to Invade Next, directly confronts what so many Bernie supporters believe is wrong in America: as long time Michael Moore supporter Jon Schwarz tells us, Michael Moore has put his finger on the heart of American discontent – our punitive school, workplace, economic, and criminal justice systems that assume “people are bad,” cannot be trusted with freedom, and must be threatened with punishment in order to be “good” citizens. Happily, exciting alternative views are strong and growing stronger.
The Michael Moore Solution
With far less biting satire than he used in his previous flims, Moore takes us on an “invasion” into countries that demonstrate how treating citizens with respect creates cultures that support innovation, peace, economic prosperity, and personal happiness. For example, Moore takes us to Finland, where educators have abandoned teaching to standardized tests, replacing the old, ineffectual way of linking learning with fear of failure with empowering activities that emphasize student choice, experimentation, and general self governance, a radical educational shift that has moved Finland’s children to the very top of the educational success ladder.
Moore also profiles France’s school lunch program, provided free and intended to honour the whole child. The leisurely whole-foods meal allows for conversation along with palate education, including the vital necessity of water as part of a daily health regimen. The film maker also dips into a French sex-education class where students learn that human physical bonding is meant to be loving, respectful, and safe for both parties. In Germany, Moore visits classrooms where students learn about the horrifying truth of Nazi Death Camps, “remembering” in order to prevent a recurrence of such brutal attitudes to differences.
The film itself is a powerful educational tool for all teachers who want to emphasize that other cultures are valuable sources of innovation and information for American citizens generally and American students in particular. Because the American way is to teach children and adults that the United States is the best at everything, the film introduces a bracing reality check that is necessary for an informed citizenry. On Michael Moore’s visit to Slovenia, for instance, we learn that everyone is offered a free college education, even visiting American students.
During Moore’s visit to Norway, viewers get to hear convicted felons and their guards talk about the importance of rehabilitation in supporting a return of self respect and the desire for community reparation after even the most violent crimes have been committed. However, given the spectacular failure of the American “war on drugs,” it may be Portugal’s decriminalization of drug offenses that best epitomizes how to shift the emphasis from punishment and disenfranchisement to rehabilitation, citizen responsibility, and basic human dignity. Police forces throughout America would benefit from wide viewing of this film since Moore contrasts how American drug users, most of them men of colour, are treated in jails and prisons across the US. The comparison is startling and the human and economic benefits of Norway’s and Portugal’s humane restorative justice programs speak for themselves.
While it is true that Moore paints other cultures’ triumphs with the broadest of strokes in Where to Invade Next, he participates in the conversation about positive change that so many citizens long for. This is what the surprising success of the Bernie Sanders’ bid for the presidency exemplifies. Countless numbers of people are experiencing incredible hardships in daily life, most at the hands of what can be described as harsh and uncaring systems under corporate control. Donald Trump, directly opposed to Sanders on the liberal/conservative continuum, also figures in the current, heated conversation as the man who best represents punitive, fear-based thinking. His negative response to humane immigration policies,, restorative justice programs that emphasize rehabilitation and community healing, and social assistance programs that support all manner of families in their quest to provide loving, food- and home-secure environments for their members cannot help but further erode human dignity in the general population.
Here is our polarizing question in a nutshell: Do we go forward with our punitive attitudes and narrow views of what it is to be American, or do we expand the possibility of all citizens’ abilities to thrive by embracing what it might mean to the country to create programs that mandate all citizens’ rights to health-care access, rights, free, quality education, workplace productivity through salary increases and vacation time, and, rehabilitation possibilities when the law has been broken. It is a big conversation, and, given the polarizing influences in this incredibly diverse country, one that is bound to be fabulously flawed. But really, what are the options?
More prisons? More police? More guns? More wars? Or more children in poverty? More families on food stamps? More wasted human potential? Or, more standardized tests and more devastating student debt loads? Or more national debt and corporate profiteers? As Michael Moore points out, all the solutions other cultures have utilized to improve conditions for their own citizens originated right here in America. Viewing the film can be a devastating experience if we assume the challenges here at home are hopeless. However, optimism doesn’t die easily here. Too many people have already joined with others to create remarkably positive changes, those that improve the quality of life for us all.
This Valentine’s Day, give yourself the valentine of hope by seeing the film and choosing your cause. Every one of the issues Moore profiles – from work place reform including higher wages and vacation time, to educational programs that trust students to develop their critical thinking skills through research and experimentation, to universal health care, maternity and paternity leave, and spa time to address stress, to financial institutions that are service and community oriented, to prison programs to cultivate remorse, reparation, self respect, and a return to society – are vitally important in our quest to reimagine a country that is known for something other than being the world’s military enforcer. Moore reminds us that most of us yearn to be part of a culture that values and respects its citizens’ intelligence, trustworthiness, and ingenuity. There are so many ways to achieve such a culture, all of them possible.
Each one of us can become involved in creating a culture based on respect and compassion. Let’s show the LOVE this Valentine’s Day, not just to Moore, but to ourselves, our families, and our communities by participating in the growing movements for positive change wherever we find ourselves. And if this seems like the impossible dream, use Tapping to cultivate optimism and trust in human goodness, starting with yourself and your family and friends. Optimism and trust live in all of us, perhaps beneath fear and anger and disappointment, but present nonetheless, and ready to support the joy of co-creating a loving, fair, just world. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Until next week
Jane Buchan, MA, AAMET Advanced Practitioner, firstname.lastname@example.org, 802-533-9277
Jane is a Learning Coach specializing in neutralizing cultural age, gender, and race constructs to support learners of every age. To engage her coaching services, please contact Jane by phone (802) 533-9277 or email, email@example.com. Be sure to put Coaching Query in the subject line.