If you haven't seen the documentary Louder than a Bomb, you should. It's one of the best educational movies I've seen in a long time and can give us hope for education reform and in the next generation of high school students.
The title Louder than a Bomb refers to a massive poetry slam hosted in Chicago every year. Created in 2001, the Louder than a Bomb poetry slam hosts schools from all over the city and the suburbs, inviting them to prepare teams for the event. Slammers compete both in teams and as individuals, advancing from beginning rounds to the finals at a mega-stage in the city. In 2008 when the movie was filmed, over sixty schools or a total of 600 students gathered for the event.
The Louder than a Bomb tournament has the energy and school spirit I've only ever seen at sporting events. Kids wear t-shirts in their school colors. They bring marker-colored signs with the names of their classmates. Some have team handshakes. They lean over the balconies and scream the names of well-known poet participants at the contest. I've never seen something so academic be so wild.
And that, perhaps, is what makes the documentary so amazing. It seems that most of these students, who probably don't play sports, would never receive the kind of encouragement that we typically reserve for our football players. They can see that something that requires them to do well in school, or at least well in English class, can get them ahead in life. They recognize that they don't need basketball or sports to get them where they want to be.
And that's what a lot of the kids followed by the documentary crew need. One amazingly adult high school senior named Nate talked about how he came from a poor neighborhood, but took the subway to an exclusive magnet school on the other side of town. As a kid, like many in his neighborhood, he thought that basketball success was the only way out of a life of poverty. Poetry proved him wrong and at the end of the movie he announced he wanted to be a college professor--or a rap star. He had an attitude that isn't emulated by many people, let alone high schoolers. He didn't care if he won the Louder than a Bomb competition; he just wanted to speak his peace.
Another teen followed, Adam Gottlieb, was nearly a celebrity at the teen convention, and, he should become one in other spheres with his poetry, as well. He is a kid whose parents told him he could be anything he wanted to be and his love for people and for the world is obvious in his words, which drip with emotion and thought. He doesn't censor himself and he doesn't follow the "this will help me win" mentality of many of his peers. I'd like to see where he ends up in five years.
Overall, the movie is well-worth checking out at the theater. The poetry these students produce is raw and young and unencumbered by worries of paying the bills with their writing. The festival is supportive and nerdy and south side all at once. Seeing the long pony-tailed Adam hug the backwards-cap wearing Lamar alone was worth the price of the ticket. Louder than a Bomb seems like some kind of boundary-breaking magic world I hope we emulate all over the country.