The Gatekeeper: Math in America
A film about the math crisis in America: how it hurts all of us, and what we can do to change it.
This project will only be funded if it reaches its goal by Sat, May 4 2019 6:18 PM UTC +00:00.
Note from Director, Vicki Abeles
There’s no shortage of good causes in need of support on Kickstarter; below is the reason I think this project is particularly worthy.
The Gatekeeper’s origins are close to my heart. I was compelled to make my first film, Race to Nowhere, after the suicide of a child in my community: a straight-A student and high achiever whose parents speculated that mounting anxiety over her eighth-grade algebra class—and a recently failed math test—led her to question her intelligence and self-worth. As a mother watching academic anxiety building in my own young kids, this girl’s tragic death was a call to action. I could no longer be complacent about the unnecessary pressures putting children’s health and well-being at risk.
After the film’s release, I got a call from Stanford professor Jo Boaler, who believes math is at the heart of the achievement treadmill in American schools. “Math really is the worst offender among the school subjects when it comes to stress,” she told me, even among her students at Stanford. "They're some of the highest achieving kids in the country, and they are really fearful of math," she said. "They've had experiences where they feel that they're not able to understand, that there's something wrong with them."
My film team and I turned our lens to math, and what we found astounded us. In America, math isn't just a cause of anxiety and fear around learning. It is also is cutting off opportunities for individuals, deepening inequality, and holding our society back.
Unlike citizens of many other countries, Americans have a notoriously troublesome relationship to math. A majority of us are numerically and financially illiterate, unable to make sense of the data that increasingly shape 21st-century life. Even Americans who excel in traditional math often don’t understand it deeply, and struggle with creative real-world problem solving.
Our team is focused on getting to the root of America's math crisis.
The Gatekeeper reveals how math functions as a filter in our increasingly tech-based economy, through the personal stories of young people whose struggles with math could prevent them from graduating from high school, going on to higher education, or pursuing sustainable and rewarding careers. It explores stereotype thinking about who is and who isn’t a “math person”—unheard of in other countries—which allows us to accept widespread failure as normal. And it touches on the importance of the ability to critically evaluate information in a world increasingly shaped by data.
The film is led by the voices of passionate leaders—civil rights leader Bob Moses; Stanford professor Jo Boaler; and mathematician and UC Berkeley professor Alan Schoenfeld, among others—who value deep comprehension over mimicry, and collaboration over competition; who show that math can be fun, and is often beautiful; and who claim that how we teach math will determine our future as a nation.
At heart, The Gatekeeper is about change. Making this film convinced us that math is key to economic, gender, and racial equity in the United States, and also crucial to developing independent, critical thinkers across professions who are able to fully participate in our democracy. Making this film also opened our eyes to the true depth, beauty, and potential of math—so much so that we've been inspired to relearn it ourselves! All of us should have access to deep mathematical understanding. And if we change policy and practice, all of us can.
WATCH: Educator Catherine Lewis shares a personal math story—how her understanding of pi changed while she was observing a class in Japan.
A grassroots movement
We're making The Gatekeeper to spread awareness about the high stakes of our math crisis and how to fix it, and to engage communities around the country to take action on behalf of young people everywhere.
The Gatekeeper is more than a film; it's part of a grassroots movement to transform our culture by changing how we learn, from the ground up.
Ten years ago, our team made Race to Nowhere, a film that examined the profound cultural and academic pressures putting children’s and our nation’s well-being at risk. The film—featured in the New York Times and NBC—hit a cultural nerve, inspiring a huge wave of activism against a culture that compromises children’s health by pushing rote learning and empty achievement.
Race to Nowhere and our following film Beyond Measure have been screened by more than 10,000 communities and film festivals, inspiring thousands of students, parents, and educators to make changes at home and at school. Building on this momentum, we plan to develop a virtual suite of tools and resources including action tool kits, financial literacy resources, and a website to help communities use The Gatekeeper as a platform for cultural change. But we can’t get to this stage without your support!
Why we need your support
1) Help us finish this film: Our principal cinematography is complete, and we are now raising funds for post-production. Your support will fund a final edit of The Gatekeeper, critical to ensuring that the film is as visually and emotionally compelling as it can be. No donation is too small!
Any funding beyond our goal will help us cover post-production expenses, including animation to bring math to life; an original score; color correction, sound mixing, and mastering for theatrical screenings, broadcast, and DVD; and translation and closed captioning.
2) Spread the word: In order to raise awareness and ignite a national conversation about math in this country, we need your help sharing our campaign! Please share this campaign link with everyone you know.
Everyone has a math story. We encourage you to share your personal experience with math on social media to help raise awareness about the math crisis in America. Alternatively, feel free to share the following (with a link to this campaign!):
For #MathStatMonth, I’m supporting The Gatekeeper, an in-progress documentary about the #MathCrisis in America, how it’s catastrophic for individuals & society, and the inspiring leaders working to end it. Check it out! (bit.ly/gatekeeperfilm)
In gratitude for your support of the film and greater movement, we’re offering a range of gifts and resources only available through this campaign.
Jo Boaler is a professor of mathematics education at Stanford University, and the faculty director of youcubed. Her PhD won the national award for educational research in the UK, and her book Experiencing School Mathematics won the “Outstanding Book of the Year” award for education in Britain. She is an elected fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (Great Britain), and a former president of the International Organization for Women and Mathematics Education (IOWME). She is the recipient of a National Science Foundation Early Career Award, the NCSM Kay Gilliland Equity Award (2014) and the CMC Walter Denham Mathematics Leadership award (2015). She was a White House presenter on girls and STEM, and her work has been published in the New York Times, TIME magazine, and The Wall Street Journal. She was named one of the 8 educators “changing the face of education” by the BBC.
Catherine Lewis is the current director of Lesson Study research projects funded by NSF and IES, and is a senior research scientist at Mills College. Catherine comes from four generations of public school teachers. Fluent in Japanese, she has conducted research in Japanese and U.S. schools for 25 years. Her writings and videotapes, including Lesson Study: A Handbook of Teacher-Led Instructional Change and 'Can You Lift 100 Kilograms?' have introduced many U.S. educators to Lesson Study. A graduate of Harvard University (B.A.) and Stanford University (Ph.D.), she is the author of more than 40 publications on elementary education and child development, including the award-winning book Educating Hearts and Minds: Reflections on Japanese Preschool and Elementary Education (Cambridge University Press, 1995).
Robert “Bob” Parris Moses is an American educator and civil rights activist, known for his work as a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee on voter education and registration in Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement. He completed a master’s in philosophy at Harvard University. Since 1982 Moses has developed the nationwide Algebra Project in the United States. He has received a MacArthur Fellowship and other awards for this work, which emphasizes teaching algebra skills to minority students based on broad-based community organizing and collaboration with parents, teachers, and students.
Alan Schoenfeld is the Elizabeth and Edward Conner Professor of Education and Affiliated Professor of Mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley. He served as president of AERA and vice president of the National Academy of Education, and he holds the International Commission on Mathematics Instruction’s Klein Medal, the highest international distinction in mathematics education; AERA's Distinguished Contributions to Research in Education award; and the Mathematical Association of America’s Mary P. Dolciani award, given to a pure or applied mathematician for distinguished contributions to the mathematical education of K-16 students.
Akihiko Takahashi is an associate professor of mathematics education at DePaul University in the United States, a Honorary Reader of University College London, and a Researcher at Tokyo Gakugei University in Tokyo Japan. At DePaul University he teaches mathematics teaching and learning, and mathematics for prospective teachers and practicing teachers. He was a teacher in Japan before becoming an educator of mathematics teachers. During his teaching career, he was nationally active in mathematics Lesson Study in Japan, and continues to support and advocate for Lesson Study in the United States and throughout the world.
Vicki Abeles (Director and Producer) Vicki Abeles is a filmmaker, parent, attorney, and passionate education advocate. She directed the award winning documentaries Race to Nowhere and Beyond Measure and brought the films to millions of viewers around the globe using a cutting-edge community distribution model. She is the author of the NYT best-selling book, Beyond Measure: Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation. Additional film credits include Associate Producer on the Sundance favorite Miss Representation(2011) and Associate Producer on Plastic Man: The Artful Life of Jerry Ross Barrish (2014).
Amy Ferraris (Editor and Co-producer) Amy Ferraris is a documentary film editor and filmmaker whose work is distinguished by its compassion, humor, and unexpected depth. Her feature editing credits include Seeking Asian Female and The Grace Lee Project, both of which premiered at South by Southwest. Her work has enjoyed great success on the festival circuit, including at Tribeca, LAFF, True/False, DocNZ and AFIDocs, where it won "Best of Fest." Her latest feature editing credit is Try Harder! —an ITVS-supported documentary that follows five seniors at San Francisco’s iconic, high-achieving Lowell High School through the emotional roller coaster ride of the college admissions process. Ms. Ferraris' broadcast work has appeared on PBS, the Sundance Channel, the Discovery Networks, Animal Planet, NatGeo, NBCSports, and A&E, among others. She is also the producer/director/editor of The Perfect Cappuccino, a feature documentary about coffee, consumerism, and being American. Ms. Ferraris currently lives in Oakland with her partner and their two children.
Mark Smith (Director of Photography) Mark’s work has spanned documentary, television comedy, commercials and indie features. Camera credits include Returning Mickey Stern, Grand Prize winner Rome Film Festival, Worlds of Sound, Cine Golden Eagle winner for the Smithsonian Channel, Finding Amelia, for Discovery, which he also co-produced. Mark previously collaborated with Vicki Abeles on Race to Nowhere. As a parent and founding member of a community-based school, he developed an interest in education which informed his participation in Beyond Measure.
Molly Woodward (Contributing Writer) Molly is a writer, story consultant, and prose editor. She is deeply interested in the relationships between knowledge transmission, social justice, and health. After working in book publishing for more than a decade, she turned her focus to education, advocating for pedagogies that center freedom and authentic connection. She continues to edit a variety of books, including the Fighting for Justice series for young readers, creates her own books for kids, and enjoys life with her family in Martinez, California.
We’re excited to come back to Kickstarter after our first successful campaign for Beyond Measure. We love the community we’ve been able to form here, and we look forward to building on it with The Gatekeeper. We created this project not just to make a film, but to launch a movement around the status of math in America—and we thought the engaged, creative, energetic Kickstarter community would be the perfect place to help us get that off the ground. We hope you’ll join us in helping make this project successful!
Risks and challenges
We have a top-notch post-production team in place. Everyone is committed to finishing this project, and we've already done most of the heavy lifting. However, like most independent films, financing can be the final hurdle to completion, and we need your help with this final push. We're excited to keep you updated on our progress, respond to any questions, and publicly acknowledge your support. Thank you for helping us drive a fresh conversation about math in this country!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter