Izzit.org is a nonprofit organization that shares educational DVDs and current events lessons with the purpose of encouraging students to think about the world around them. A DVD featured on their website is The
Drew Carey Project, which challenges some commonly held assumptions. The disc includes a Teacher's Guide (in PDF format) that offers discussion questions, quizzes, and enrichment activities. This DVD is divided into four sections, each lasting under ten minutes.
The first section discussed the extremely congested traffic in Los Angeles. A 15-mile trip to work can average an hour and a half one way. Three hours a day spent driving to and from work when you live only 15 miles from your workplace is a problem worth exploring. The segment discusses solutions, but makes it clear that students shouldn't be hopeful for anything to change.
The second section asked viewers to examine whether or not things are as bad, financially, as they seem. Do we make less money now than a generation ago? No. Do things cost more? Well, in dollar figures yes, but in hours invested in earning the money to buy those things, the DVD posits the answer is no. We have more amenities now than ever before, it insists. We are richer than we think. The media is blamed for this because of their ever-negative reviews of the times. This negative news influences our impressions of wealth.
The third section introduced us to a restaurant in Arizona called San Tan Flats. It is a small business that was welcomed by the community. Apparently, though, it has found itself in the critical eye of the local government. Pinal County has nit-picked them over many trivial matters, right down to being certain they had the correct type of firewood in their firepits. When nothing else could be found out of place, Pinal County officials invoked from the archives an outdated law that forbid outdoor dancing. They are now being fined each time their guests are caught dancing to live music performed at the restaurant.
The fourth and final segment was about a Youth Center, CYAC, located in National City. The Activity Center has an average of one thousand kids per year go through their program, which is geared toward helping teens succeed and stay out of gangs. The city has invoked Eminent Domain, a law that allows government to take a property (with compensation) when necessary. Eminent Domain is usually reserved for extreme situations, such as when a piece of property sits in the path of a new railroad or highway. In this case, Eminent Domain is being invoked to seize the CYAC's property, not for a road or park, but for developers who are seeking to build a high-rise. The community's efforts to respectfully defend their rights are shared throughout the segment. At the end of the segment, an afterthought appears on the screen, announcing that the condo developer responded to opposition and chose not to proceed with the plans. This was a relief to hear, but the relief was brief. It was then reiterated that the city still has it in for the center and that it still insists it can and will use Eminent Domain if similar plans are presented.
This reassurance that everything was still miserable for the community is a good illustration of the tone of the entire DVD. Each segment was very interesting but offered no real solutions and no hope. I saw no purpose. My students were not enlightened to anything other than grim negativity. I think most students are very aware of the world we live in and would benefit much more from inspiration and challenges. Just as the second segment insisted that negativity has influenced us to think we are poor, I think the DVD overall influences students to believe there is no hope in trying to make a difference.
That said, it has the potential to inspire interesting discussions about property rights, standard of living, and eminent domain. The purpose of the DVD is to challenge students' ability to think critically. I asked mine if they learned anything new after watching the first segment, and they informed me that they now know L.A. has really bad traffic. They found the rest of the DVD more worthy of examination, agreeing that many of us are probably better off than we realize. As for the two segments about local governments, they walked away feeling the situations were strange and very wrong, but very rare and not the norm.
We decided to explore the idea of cost of living. This segment made us think. For instance, if things are as bad as we're told in the news, why are restaurant parking lots always full? Why are so many people driving new cars? Some investigating was required. We visited www.census.gov and found that the minimum wage in 1970 was $1.60; the cost of a new home in 1970 was $23,500. The minimum wage in 2009 was $7.25; the cost of a new home was $215,600. Our minimum wage had a 453% increase, while housing costs went up 917%. In 1970, you had to work 14,867.5 hours to afford a new home. In 2009, it took 29,737.9 hours. However, the DVD also pointed out that the sizes of homes have increased. This research checked out. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average home size in the United States increased 930 square feet from 1970 to 2004. The data in this section of the DVD was controversial and questionable, but it certainly made us do some thinking.
The running time for the entire DVD is only 34 minutes, making its $25 price tag seem awfully high for what you are getting. The idea is to spend much more time thinking and discussing long after the DVD is over, but I'm not convinced it was worth the money or the negative influence.