I went to perhaps one of the best movies I’ve ever seen this weekend at Ragtag: Slumdog Millionaire. If you haven’t seen it…run, don’t walk. In the realm of great flicks, it ranks with my elite: Stranger Than Fiction, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Atonement. These are just a few of the newer movies on my list, and Slumdog sits at the top. I’m on my way in a few minutes to see Benjamin Button, so perhaps this week will be a two-fer.
But the key to Slumdog’s inspiration lay at the foot of the children the movie featured: slaves, soldiers, survivors from an impoverished third world country. Africa, India, Haiti…these are places that force children to roam the street begging, stealing, surviving. But many don’t. Many are kidnapped, forced into servitude for drug dealers, gun runners, or worse. It puts life in perspective. These children don’t own a textbook, or a book of any kind for that matter. They don’t have Dolce & Gabana jeans, don’t want them, and they don’t worry about being like Britney or Ashton. They worry about being. One need only watch the new season of “24” to see the truth of this all-too-real dilemma.
What would American kids do if they weren’t allowed to go to school? A glib answer would be, “They wouldn’t care.” But that’s not true. Visit children in many of these third world regions, and it’s proof what they’d do without the burden—or privilege—of school. They’d be ecstatic at the possibility of homework, of owning a book, of learning. It isn’t that American kids don’t appreciate what they have. The truth is, they don’t understand it.
If they had to fight and beg for every meal, it would open their eyes. If they lost a mother…a father…or both, they’d develop an appreciation for all things easy. If they had to spend every waking moment surviving instead of assuming and taking for granted, it would alter more than their perspective—it would alter them.
Parents today could take one vacation – just one – that would forever change every teenager and the American mindset of immediacy, greed, and self-centered self-gratification. A mission trip to Jamaica, Haiti, or Jamal’s Mumbai neighborhood would open their minds, reveal the harsh realities of a wider world around them.
Learning isn’t confined to a building… and too many kids learn that the hard way.