If and when you get the chance, be sure to check out a new documentary, "The One That Got Away," which explores the challenges facing low-income families, schools that serve them, and social services systems -- in a more balanced and thoughtful way than many other films of this kind.
There's no trailer yet, not even a website or social media, but the flyer for the documentary, screened earlier this year at the Montclair Film Fest
(where it's based) and last night at Scholastic in Manhattan (thanks, Tyler!), promises a pretty dramatic story: "Once president of his middle school; now behind bars. The One That Got Away tells the true story of Tourrie Moses, a once-highly promising New Jersey student from a troubled background who is now in prison for murder, and a profoundly devoted team of teachers who tried to help him thrive."
And indeed the film tells an intense, vivid tale. The interviews with Tourrie's mother, who's struggled with heroin addiction, and his strict but loving father, who says he spent roughly 20 years in and out of prison, are particularly challenging to watch.
But the most interesting and helpful aspect to the film is how it describes a situation in which there are no black-and-white heroes or villains, and no bright or artificial line between parents, school, and social services agencies tasked with supporting families and children in tough circumstances.
It's not the school, or the teacher, or the kid, or society. It's all of them.
As depicted in the film, the educators at Glenfield Middle School are incredibly concerned and dedicated but are using an ad hoc warning system of supports and interventions. Ditto for the high school educators who try and fail to get Moses through a delicate transition from middle school despite his social services case having been formally closed. The parents are both flawed but by no means unloving or entirely absent. Tourrie (known to his family as Ray Ray) is intensely charismatic and eager to learn but unable to hold onto his connections to his teachers and his father over the reliable if limited lure of the streets.
In capturing these overlapping roles and dynamics, the film raises both structural societal issues (racism, inequality) and issues of personal and individual effort. But neither society nor the individual is given responsibility for the outcome in this film. It's shared.
(And, blessedly, there's nothing in the film about Common Core, standardized testing, teacher evaluation, charter schools, the Gates Foundation, or any of the other obsessions of the current era. )
There are some issues I had with the documentary, including some heavy-handed interviewing (especially in a scene about drug addiction), and a front porch group interview with former classmates that's not as useful or enlightening as intended.
And, while the educators and social services agency staffers who are interviewed express deep regret and renewed vigilance against a repeat of systemic failures, it's not entirely clear to me that they've given up their ad hoc approach (based on personal relationships) and replaced it with a more reliable warning and intervention system.
This film will raise awareness of the problems facing schools serving kids like Tourrie but I'm not as confident as I'd like to be that a similar tragedy couldn't be happening again right now.