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Where EAST meets the Northwest

LEARNING CURVE. Globalization, immigration, poverty in urban America — to say that P.O.V.’s The Learning tackles complex problems is an understatement. The documentary follows four Filipina teachers who move to the United States to teach in Baltimore, Maryland with the hope of transforming their families’ impoverished lives back home. Pictured are Dorotea Godinez (top photo, far right in black shirt) at her former school in Bogo, the Philippines and Angel Alim at her family’s eatery in Antipolo, the Philippines. (Photos/Miguel V. Fabie III)

From The Asian Reporter, V21, #18 (September 19, 2011), page 13 & 20.

The Learning’s harsh lessons

The Learning

Directed by Ramona Diaz

Airing September 22 at 7:30pm

on Oregon Public Broadcasting Plus

By Maileen Hamto

The Asian Reporter

Globalization, immigration, poverty in urban America — to say that P.O.V.’s The Learning tackles complex problems is an understatement.

Through the stories of newly arrived teachers from a small island nation in Asia, The Learning tells of four Filipina women facing their first year teaching in Baltimore’s schools. Their stories reflect the Philippines’ colonial history. In 1898, when the United States took possession of the Philippines from Spain, American teachers set up the country’s public school system, establishing English as the language of instruction for math and science. Today, there is a large pool of trained, motivated, English-speaking teachers, especially in high school math, science, and special education.

In recent years, Filipino teachers have sought a better life in the United States by lending a much-needed hand in America’s urban schools. In Baltimore, 600 Filipina educators represent 10 percent of the teaching force. A majority of the students they teach come from families of color living in poverty.

It’s hard to ignore the pervading presence of race and class in the stories. The film follows the journeys of four women — educators Dorotea Godinez, Angel Alim, Grace Amper, and Rhea Espedido — during an extraordinary year of their lives. Coming to America, with all their hopes and dreams of a better life for themselves and their families, they work hard to understand the challenges of children living in poverty in the United States.

American public school officials recruit teachers in urban centers and village schools in the Philippines. The women profiled in the film come from poverty in the developing world. The primary motivation for leaving home is chiefly economic. In the Philippines, trained and specialized teachers receive salaries below the poverty level, making them prized recruitment targets for many school districts in the United States, especially inner-city schools facing budgetary challenges. While teacher pay in one of these urban districts may be low by American standards, it can be as much as 25 times a teacher’s salary in the Philippines.

The story of Filipina women leaving home to make a living in other countries is not new. The global Filipino diaspora exceeds 8 million. Teaching is only the latest in the long list of jobs traditionally held by women that is drawing talent from developing countries. Filipina nurses, healthcare workers, nannies, and domestic helpers have long sought employment in first-world countries to do vital work in some of the most challenging environments.

In documenting a very special year in the lives of these Filipina teachers, The Learning captures their individual experiences, hopes, and daily classroom struggles while also highlighting the many problems that affect American public schools.

A continued decline in school funding — exacerbated by urban poverty — has given these teachers a unique opportunity to impact the lives of American youth. At the same time, dealing with the cultural divide delivers rude shocks as the women are thrust headlong into the core of America’s educational crisis.

The Learning sheds light on a necessary kind of outsourcing, one that underscores the need for institutions to seek redemption for failing their students by bringing in teachers who won’t give up on "difficult" children. In some ways, the women’s own experiences with hard- ship back home give them a better understanding of the challenges faced by Americans living in poverty. In Baltimore, as in any cash-strapped urban center plagued by a myriad of problems, many children whose needs are misunderstood by mainstream society suffer academically. School districts simply don’t have the resources to provide incentives for U.S.-trained teachers to stay and teach poor black and brown children.

Clearly, the film is made for an American audience, as it makes sweeping assumptions that viewers will already have a ready-made understanding of the issues plaguing urban school districts. Imagining the film from the point of view of newcomers to America — even the teachers themselves — it would be hard for those who are not steeped in American social justice issues to understand why children in a first-world country are so unmotivated and unprepared to learn. Without knowing about the complexities of race and class issues in the United States, it’s difficult to comprehend why children fail in America’s urban schools.

More than a story about globalization, an important underlying narrative of The Learning is the harsh reality of living in the "third world," right here in our America.

The Learning airs September 22 at 7:30pm on Oregon Public Broadcasting Plus, with a replay scheduled September 24 at 4:30am. To verify showtimes, call (503) 293-1982 or visit <>. To learn more, or to view the film online between September 21 and October 20, 2011, visit <>.