Arts & Entertainment
The praise from local educators for Journeys in Film, a program using foreign films to promote cross-cultural understanding and media literacy, has a familiar ring for Joanne Strahl Ashe, the program’s founder and executive director.
“The response from teachers has been phenomenal,” she said. “This is the most in-depth curriculum they’ve seen on the issues of diversity and global understanding.”
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the United States, interest in understanding other cultures has been increasing, Ashe believes. “Teachers in particular understand that Americans don’t understand enough about other cultures. If we’re going to effectively impact how our kids think, it’s going to be in schools.”
The goal of Journeys in Film is to fill a niche between early childhood and high school. “Children that age are primed to learn and are free of biases,” said Ashe. “This paves the way to study human rights issues and global issues.”
Liberty Group Publishing, which owns Liberty Suburban Chicago Newspapers, is a corporate sponsor of Journeys in Film.
Reaction to the curriculum from students has been positive. “Students love it,” said Ashe. She recalled that in one of the pilot program schools last year, none of the students had seen foreign film or knew anything about Tibet, the subject of “The Cup,” one of the films in the series.
“By the end of the week, they were asking for an exchange student from Tibet. We showed the film to 250 kids in an auditorium and at they end they were all were jumping up to answer questions,” Ashe recalled.
It is Ashe’s background in education, film and her personal experience with cultural differences that led her to create Journeys in Film. Raised in a family with Holocaust survivors, she lived on an Israeli kibbutz as a teen. In college, she earned a bachelor’s degree in humanistic education and a master’s degree in guidance and counseling.
When she adopted a 5-year-old boy from Russia, it hit home how important it was to understand his culture. She made a short documentary film that became “almost a training film for adopting parents.”
When the film played at the Sundance Film Festival, Ashe found herself drawn to foreign films.
At the Palm Springs International Film Fest in 2000, Ashe saw nine foreign films in one week.
“I felt as if I had been around the world and gotten to know people from other countries and learned as much as I would have learned traveling,” Ashe said. “I felt strongly this could change students’ minds and hearts. Kids are more receptive to learning through film than any other way regardless of age or learning ability level.”
According to a 2001 report by the Asia Society’s National Commission on Asia in the Schools, 83 percent of the 18- to 24-year-olds surveyed could not find Afghanistan or Israel on a world map, but knew that the island featured in the television show “Survivor” was in the South Pacific. The argument could be made that this finding underscores the need for additional strategies to promote international education, and identifies a powerful and often overlooked tool in that process-electronic media.
Companies that develop and sell curriculum to schools often overlook middle school, according to Ashe. “It has been neglected. The teachers feel this. There’s a need in middle school and they are more open. There is greater local control and teacher flexibility.”