GI Alumnus Helms Debate Documentary
After more than a decade of travel writing and mobile publishing as a founding editor of Monk Magazine, followed by graduate school at St. John’s College, Santa Fe, James Crotty’s mother died and he started to re-consider the direction of his career.
“I went to a Jesuit high school where the motto was ‘Be a man for others.’ That stuck,” said Crotty (SFGI12), who goes by his last name. He read a newspaper story about a policeman in Baltimore who started an urban debate league and was inspired. As a high-school student in Nebraska, debate helped Crotty escape a turbulent home life, and there was no reason he couldn’t make sure New York teens had the same opportunities, so he started coaching debate at the selective Stuyvesant High School and Bronx High School of Science. He soon saw the potential for a great documentary film, a creative path that led him to leave the college-prep environment in 2005 for the Eagle Academy for Young Men, an all-boys public school in the South Bronx.
In the United States today, more than half of inner city African-American males do not finish high school, and of those who don’t graduate, over 60 percent spend time in prison. Crotty was devastated by the statistical aggregates and baffled by the fact that the United States spends hundreds of billions of dollars on wars and humanitarian programs in other countries even though there is an “educational disaster right on our doorsteps.”
The documentary, Crotty’s Kids, is now in the final stages of post production; Crotty raised the last $13,000 he needed through a Kickstarter campaign in February. The film does not focus on winning debates nor does it promote debate as the “end-all, be-all to what ails urban men,” Crotty explained. “I shift more towards wise adult mentorship, grounded in both irony and fun, and deep critical and self inquiry. High school debate is a game, but it’s the same game played by CEOs, trial lawyers, and political candidates, who will trade in what they believe for what they know will win. Without guidance, debaters can lose their moral compass. I didn’t want my ‘kids,’ who were novice debaters, to become glib sophists.” To that end, Crotty required each student to choose a book from a condensed version of the St. John’s reading list—including Plato’s Meno, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man, and Hegel’s Philosophy of History—and engage in a one-on-one 30-minute discussion about the book with him every few months throughout the school year.
Unfortunately, the Eagle Academy debate program ran out of money in 2009. Now, in addition to finishing the film, Crotty writes about education, especially the intersection of tech and the for-profit education sector, for Forbes and Huffington Post. Monk Magazine has become Monk Space, a film production rental company in Los Angeles, with which he is still involved. He is also learning to write screenplays.
“I know it seems like I’ve done a million things,” he said, “but they all do cohere.”