Tuesday, April 19, 2022 at 7pm
Howard Lester's Children of Synanon + Theodore Conant's The Child of the Future: How Might He Learn

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Children of Synanon, Howard Lester, 1968, 16mm, 15 mins
The Child of the Future: How Might He Learn, Theodore Conant, 1964, 16mm, 58 mins

One of the surprisingly few titles that Canada’s National Film Board produced with Marshall McLuhan, Theodore Conant’s documentary The Child of the Future looks at experiments using new educational technologies in classrooms. McLuhan, here, serves as narrator, and the film visits schools from kindergartens to college, from a tony New England academy to an elementary school in a run-down neighborhood of Detroit. The gear rolled out by teachers predicts our own era of screen-based pedagogies, but performed with the analog audio-visual machinery of predigital times. We see kids popping 8mm silent film cartridges into tiny back-projection monitors to loop physics lessons; the lucky elite at Andover study cinema by watching Norman McClaren animation and hand-painting on film; closed-circuit television brings mathematics to the segregated South and classical music training to rural Japan; in Hamden, Connecticut’s Responsive Environments Laboratory, tykes learn their ABCs from talking typewriters with synthesized voices. The film features interviews with figures like filmmaker Robert Gardner, psychologists O.K. Moore and Jerome Bruner, and philosopher David Hawkins on the theories behind the invention and implementation of this distinctly Cold War tech. McLuhan argues that modern children react intuitively and creatively to learning through technology, and he sees all these varied developments as part of a larger cultural shift. The contemporary world, he explains, “speed[s] up data to a speed where the independent and unrelated facts are unimportant compared to the patterns between facts. So we move from a world of mechanically classified and processed data and into a world of pattern recognition and discovery.”

The Child of the Future is shown with another rare look at alternative education in the 1960s, Howard Lester’s underground documentary Children of Synanon. Later exposed as an abusive cult, Synanon was an intentional community built around drug rehabilitation, then based in Northern California. The kids lived at the Synanon School, separated from their parents and raised communally by recovering addicts. Lester’s film, made with the assistance of Chick Strand, takes a direct-cinema approach to the environment, showing how young residents are taught to learn through creative play and a disturbing form of attack therapy known as The Game—self-improvement circles in which children scream expressions of frustration and anger at one another directly. Both films survive as fascinating records of their shared era, in which children are conscripted into an older generation's radical fantasies of a world to come.

Tickets - Pay what you can ($8 suggested donation), available at door, cash and cards accepted.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 6:30pm.