A study published in 2013 examined why students dropped out of high school, charting students' motivations for dropping out since 1955.
The students were broken into three categories:
- Students who are "pushed" out, meaning their underperformance forced them to leave.
- Students who are "pulled" out, meaning life circumstances forced them to leave.
- Students who "fall" out, meaning they were so disengaged they decided to leave.
Students in the third category -- who "fall" out -- represent roughly 14% of the 1.4 million students who dropout of high school each year; meaning disengagement leads to 168,000 students dropping out in the US each year.
In Leaving to Learn, Elliot Washor and Charles Mojkowski prove that the solution to disengagement is not to prescribe pills, but to give students ownership of their education.
This doesn't mean anarchy in the classroom. Students simply need to be given more opportunities to create independently, using mediums that excite them, in a way that connects to what they're learning.
How Filmmaking Is Re-Engaging Students
If you look around America, you'll see countless examples of young people using filmmaking to lean into their education.
MyBlockNY is a program that works with high schools all around New York City to help young students tell their stories through short films. The students' films are then plotted on a map of New York, which anyone can interact with:
There are after-school programs like ReelGrrls, which teaches young girls how to be filmmakers. Students from their program have gone on to become award-winning filmmakers, but even the girls who don't pursue filmmaking professionally benefit from the training and community engagement they receive.
There are even programs for children with disabilities that base their educational approach around student filmmaking, like FOCUS, a program sponsored by the University of Arizona.
Video is the medium young students are most excited to engage with.
That's why 67% of consumers between 13 and 24 cited YouTube as a "must-have" service.
That's why 45% of Snapchat users are between 18 and 24.
And that's why around half of all teens and pre-teens in America use Musical.ly.
The question isn't *if* student filmmaking is a way to re-engage students, it's *how* schools can afford to implement it.
How a 51-Year Old Teacher Made Student Filmmaking Affordable
David Basulto was a high school media teacher in California.
He had 130 students in one media class, but only 5 cameras for all of them to share.
To adapt, he allowed students to shoot videos on their mobile phones, but the quality was terrible. He needed a way for his students to shoot professional quality video, with just a phone.
David invented the iOgrapher, a case that turns mobile devices into professional cameras.
The low-price accessory has been used by student filmmakers all over the country, and is making it affordable for schools to teach filmmaking as a way to re-engage their students.
Instead of telling students to put away their phones and focus harder, schools are telling them to take ownership of their education and do what excites them.
How Filmmaking Makes School Worthwhile
When my friend Charlie Hoehn (the author of Play It Away) was 17 years old, he developed bursitis in his pitching shoulder. He could no longer throw a baseball without extreme pain.
His baseball career was over.
He sat on the bench every game for the rest of the season, bored out of his mind.
In search of a creative outlet, he began filming his team's games on a mini-camera. After the games, he'd edit together little highlight reels on his family computer.
At the end of the season, Charlie surprised his team with a video at the baseball banquet. Friends and families laughed and cried. He became obsessed with telling stories on film.
One of Charlie's teachers took notice of his budding hobby. He began recommending films for Charlie to study, and--most importantly--encouraged Charlie to make films for class assignments.
That changed everything.
For the first time as a student, Charlie felt true ownership of his education.
He got so excited to be at school that he ran for class president, just so he could make films for school pep rallies. He then started his first business, where people paid him $200-500 to create slideshows for a range of special occasions, like family reunions and weddings.
Today, almost 13 years later, a sizable portion of Charlie's annual salary comes through freelancing as a videographer.
Before Charlie started making videos, school was just a place to write essays and fill out scantrons until the bell rung.
It wasn't until a teacher encouraged Charlie to keep making videos -- to express himself, to have fun, to own his education.
That is what made all the difference.