The Dallas Independent School District’s decision to take 5,700 fifth-grade boys to see the movie Red Tails is being questioned on two fronts: its funding and the fact that it excluded female students.
As Matthew Haag of the Dallas Morning News reported, the trip cost $57,000. Dallas ISD spokesman Jon Dahlander said the trip was paid for with Title I federal funds for educating low-income students and was approved by the Texas Education Association’s monitor. Red Tails, a George Lucas-produced film about the Tuskegee Airmen, was chosen as part of a Black History Month curriculum.
But DeEtta Culbertson, a TEA official in Austin, told Brett Shipp of WFAA that there was no record of the trip being approved in the Dallas ISD grant application for the 2011-2012 school year.
Shipp also spoke to DISD trustee Mike Morath, who said, “It strikes me that this is a less than ideal use of public funds. Is it educationally beneficial to go see a movie? Probably not.”
The decision to make the trip boys-only stirred up even greater criticism.
“There is only so much available space at the movie theater, so the decision was made for boys to attend the movie,” Dahlander told the Morning News‘s Haag. “Girls stayed at school but principals were given the option to show them Akeelah and the Bee,” a movie about a young African-American girl from South Central Los Angeles who enters a spelling bee.
In a separate story Thursday night, Haag speculated that the use of Title I funds may have violated Title IX, which prohibits gender-based discrimination in programs that receive federal money. He also interviewed two female educators who were both aghast at the decision.
“Not having space for everyone does not justify using gender to decide who gets to participate in an educational outing,” said Stanford University professor Shelley Correll.
The school district was also criticized by Anna North at Jezebel, who wrote, “Girls can’t be fighter pilots, or even learn about them, obviously.” She continued:
Simply assuming that Red Tails is Not For Girls is especially odd given that our military includes an increasing number of women — like Shawna Rochelle Kimbrell, the Air Force’s first black female fighter pilot. Also, it’s not like girls are never interested in flying — witness Kimberly Anyadike, who at 15 became the youngest black female pilot to fly across the US. Her safety pilot on that trip was a former Tuskegee Airman, and over the course of her trip she met over 50 members of that famous squadron. So it seems like maybe young girls might appreciate learning about Tuskegee Airmen after all. It also seems like an odd choice to celebrate a month that’s supposed to be about equality with a large-scale act of exclusion.
At D Magazine‘s Frontburner, Jason Heid suggested another take: that the field trip was a mistake because “the movie’s not very good. More importantly, it’s not a history lesson. It’s more like propaganda.”
On Twitter, Aman Batheja and Christopher Kelly of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Full disclosure: Kelly is also a TEXAS MONTHLY writer-at large) also put things in cinematic perspective:
The girls made out better. “@amanbatheja: [email protected]RottenTomatoes rating of Red Tails: 36%. Akeelah and the Bee: 83% (bit.ly/xuj9YX )”
— Christopher Kelly (@ChrisKelly74) February 10, 2012