Retiring Polson social studies teachers Pam Benn and Kate Robertson and physical education teacher Sharon Baldi have taught for a combined 100 years. That impressive number lies in stark contrast to the experience of many girls around the world who are denied even a minimum opportunity at education-and it's a contrast the trio plans to make part of its legacy through the screening of the film Girl Rising.
Girl Rising chronicles the struggles of nine girls in different countries who fought and demanded to be taught. The message of the film can be summed up with the tagline, "One girl with courage is a revolution."
That's the message the three teachers want to deliver with their one last opportunity to teach.
Due to Superstorm Sandy and numerous snow days, most Madison teachers must make up four days of professional development to focus on a new evaluation process for teachers to be instituted in August. This year's 25 retiring teachers, however, are each undertaking Legacy Projects in an effort to leave something behind for the next generation of teachers.
While many teachers have chosen to write lesson plans for their courses, Benn, Robertson, and Baldi wanted to impact the students they already teach and as a result are hosting two screenings of Girl Rising at the Madison Art Cinemas on
Thursday, May 23 at 5 and
"There are 60 million girls in the world who are not in any kind of education, so [Girl Rising] is starting off as a movement in the United States, but then it is going international to try and get world support for putting pressure on countries that are not fair to women and girls for education," said Benn.
The film tells the individual stories of the nine girls from countries such as Cambodia and Afghanistan as written by different authors and voiced over by actors including Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Kerry Washington, and Liam Neeson.
For these three teachers, this film is not only meant to supplement what's taught in class about child marriages and child labor-two of the many obstacles to education the girls face in the film-but also to give students a perspective on the world outside of Madison and to create a social awareness about discrimination against women.
"One of things they say in all this literature is 'Educate a woman, change the world,' because there's so many places that without the women being educated they're not changing," said Benn. Women's rights "is something that we teach in the classroom...It's taking something that we feel is important in the classroom and teaching children-and adults, also-how important it is around the world. [Girl Rising] makes it more of a reality to students."
With the recent 40-year anniversary of the Title IX Amendment that forbids discrimination of students based on gender, Baldi felt the film was relevant to her discipline in athletics, but she also noted how as teenagers, girls are suddenly faced with the knowledge that there is a gender gap and it is important to address the issue early on.
"We teach a sensitive group. At 13 and 14, the seeds [of empowerment] need to be planted at this point...[The girls] are the ones that are competing with the boys for the jobs and they've done so much research on a woman in the same job compared to a guy and the discrepancy between stipends and money," said Baldi. "Just having the girls be empowered is really important, especially at this stage."
Benn, Robertson, and Baldi believe it's important to reach out to students with a worldly perspective early on, so that when they do travel or experience other cultures, they can be more understanding global citizens and also recognize where change needs to occur.
"I've done a lot of traveling and I just think in studying about women's rights and child labor, there's such a need for people to be aware of what's going on in the world and to broaden their horizons and see how life could be for other people," said Benn.
Education "is something that we take for granted in this country," said Robertson. "It's about broadening [students'] awareness that we really are fortunate in this country and that girls aren't treated the same way around the world."
Baldi recounted an experience she had in Italy in 2005 when she was the only woman who went out cycling because women stayed home and cooked for the men. She said although she felt safe, her uncle, a cop, followed her to make sure. She hopes the film opens students up to a future in which they will be exposed to the discrimination women face.
"There's varying levels of it, but it's out there and when you see it you think, 'Is this really going on still?' It's one of those things you've got to notice," said Baldi.
Benn added that although cultures have varying customs, students and others who view the film should not simply accept the inequity.
"I think the world is getting smaller, because people are traveling more. I think it's just people are going to be experiencing cultures more and need to have a lot more tolerance for other cultures. There's some things I think we as Americans have to tolerate and I think there are some things-like [the issues in] this film-that we need to be outspoken about," said Benn. "I think that the more the world becomes vocal on this particular topic, the more the other countries are going to have to really step up to the plate."
Although they could have done their Legacy Projects separately, Benn, Robertson, and Baldi have enjoyed working together for the last time.
"We've been working in the same building and yet we've been on different islands. When you get in your own discipline, it's really hard to be able to communicate things that we all have in common that we never really get he chance to talk about," said Baldi. "We're all going in our own different directions, and that's why we wanted to do this together. We each could have done our own thing, but we thought it was an important way to show solidarity in something that affects us in many different ways."
Tickets for the screenings are $11 and available at http://gathr.us/screening/3874.