Class Act explores the very real need for increased funding for arts education in today's American schools. The documentary makes a strong case that without the arts people cannot truly be whole or even truly happy--what if, after all, we lived in a world without music, movies and creativity? For example, my friends all know that I have a deep, deep passion for music; I can never get enough of it. For me, life without music would be dull, to say the least.
The film strengthens its case by showing us interview footage with a very large number of experts in both education and psychology; and we hear from other professionals including actor/director/producer/musician Andy Garcia, Desmond Child (songwriter, "Livin' La Vida Loca" and "Who Let The Dogs Out") and director Brett Ratner ("Rush Hour," Red Dragon" and "X-Men 3." We even see interviews with expert politicians and former government officials on both sides of the aisle as they cry out for increased funding for arts education in American schools. They all argue that there simply isn't enough funding for arts education in the schools; and in some cases there is no funding whatsoever for arts education. What we have seen is an ever increasing focus on test scores--which I'm really not against--but funds for music and drama classes have been sharply diminished.
In addition, the film focuses on one particularly charismatic drama teacher, Jay Jensen. We watch him work happily--and tirelessly--to improve the lives of both young and elderly students through arts education. We get great footage of some of his former students, including Andy Garcia, who enthusiastically validate that Jensen was a model teacher who could make students feel important by helping them express themselves through drama, art and creativity. We also see Jensen teaching in a nursing home to add a little light to the lives of the elderly. That's grand.
There is one bone of contention that I have with this movie, though. The people they interview all indicate that when there was music or any other form of the arts being taught, students were more likely to stay in school and graduate--and even go on to college. This is called correlation--they're saying that two things (in this case, art and wanting more education) are related. That may well be the case. However, you can't say that correlation implies causation. After all, just because the arts were in the schools in and of itself is not "the" guarantee that all of a sudden young people will want to graduate and go on to bigger and better things. I am more comfortable with the belief that teaching the arts in schools does the students the important service of making them well-rounded individuals and better educated on the whole; but the extra education in the arts will not be any automatic key to future success for every student.
The DVD comes with several extras. We get an optional running commentary with director Sara Sackner and producer Heather Winters. There is additional interview footage with Andy Garcia, Brett Ratner, Desmond Child and ESPN radio broadcaster Roy Firestone as well.
Class Act ranks pretty high in my book; it's a firm case for increased funding for the arts in schools. I think it might have benefited somewhat if another teacher or two was highlighted instead of just Jay Jensen; but this becomes a minor issue since we get so much extra interview footage with so many other professionals. I highly recommend Class Act on DVD.