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Local Doc Tries To Solve the Education Conundrum.


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The best high school in the world is in Tucson, Arizona. So says Memphis entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and film producer Bob Compton. BASIS — a charter school founded in 1997 — is the subject of Compton's newest documentary, 2 Million Minutes: The 21st Century Solution.

The existence of BASIS came as a surprise to Compton. If you've seen his earlier film, 2 Million Minutes: A Global Examination, it'll probably come as a surprise to you, too. A Global Examination paints a pretty bleak picture of American education and how far behind the world — particularly China and India — U.S. kids are. The film sounds the alarm and considers the long-term effects the education inequity will have on America's ability to compete, not to mention the life of impoverishment to which it's dooming the kids. Compton says, "The tragedy is we're telling them, 'You've got a high school diploma now, you're ready to compete.' And they're not."

Except for showing what the Chinese and Indians are doing, A Global Examination falls short of offering a remedy, Compton admits. He says, "People asked me, 'What do we do?' And I didn't have an answer because I wasn't sure we could stay competitive. Then I saw BASIS." Now the social advocate feels he may have found the perfect model for American success.

Compton screened A Global Examination at BASIS, and afterward the students challenged him on what he was saying. "They said, 'Look at our curriculum. We're more advanced than the Chinese and Indian students.' They said, 'I took AP Calculus BC as a junior. I took AP Calculus as a sophomore. I took pre-calculus as a freshman. And this year as a senior I'm doing differential equations and game theory.' And my jaw hit the floor."

But BASIS doesn't possess any native advantages not available anywhere else in the country — say, in Memphis. "I was stunned to discover that Tucson/Pima County is actually poorer than Memphis," Compton says. "And in this low-income county, in a strip mall, right across from the Home Depot, is the world's best high school. It's a charter school started with almost no startup capital. These kids are from middle- and low-income families, and a large minority come from single-parent families. Here are ordinary American kids achieving academically and intellectually at an extraordinary level."

BASIS is the answer to the problems posed in A Global Examination, Compton says: "Curriculum above the world standard, teachers above the world standard, low cost to start it, low cost to run it, ordinary kids from middle- to low-income families. What more could you ask for?"

Dan Treharne, the director of The 21st Century Solution, hails from Memphis and is a product of Memphis City Schools: White Station High School, class of 2001. Treharne got an MFA in film and video production from the University of Southern California. Treharne parses the answer BASIS provides: "There's nothing unique about these kids. What's unique is the belief that they can."

The first film started a conversation, and 2 Million Minutes: The 21st Century Solution pushes it forward. What happens next? Compton is as anxious to see as anybody. "Will parents and will the community rise up and knock down every inhibitor between our children and a global education?" Compton asks.

2 Million Minutes: The 21st Century Solution
Thursday, September 24th.
7 p.m. $7

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