________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 19 . . . . May 27, 2005


Ming’s First Day of School. (My Brand New Life).

Jean-Louis Côté (Director). Ina Fichman Martin, Pierre Lapointe & Sally Bochner (Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2003.
23 min., 33 sec., VHS, $99.95.
Order Number: C9104 034.

Subject Headings:
Home schooling.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Andrea Szilagyi.

*** /4


Eleven-year old Ming, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, has had some home-schooling. This means she has never been to school, taken exams, or worn a school uniform. For one week in Montreal, Ming will find out what it’’s like to be in a regular classroom with girls and boys her age. She will do more math than she has ever done, take a test and give a presentation. As Ming discovers some advantages to being in a real school, her classmates weigh the pros and cons of a structured learning environment. (From cover notes.)


Part of the National Film Board’s 13-part reality series called “A Brand New Life,” Ming’s First Day of School seems to be aimed at home schooled children. Viewers are introduced to Ming’s family life, but the majority of the film focuses on her first experience in a structured school environment. She expresses her likes (having a circle of female friends) and her dislikes (structure, noise, math, presentations, and the boys) in a clear and uninhibited manner throughout. Students in the class welcome Ming warmly, and she grows fond of her host family almost immediately.

     The film adheres to the series’ visually fresh and contemporary style and is structurally similar, including video diary segments, “candid shots,” and interviews. Compared to A Border Story, also part of the series, Ming’s First Day of School is somewhat less convincing. Few details about home schooling are included, and the reciprocity that is present in A Border Story, one reason it is so effective, is missing. Rather than modeling mutual understanding, the film is more one-sided, showing Ming’s impressions of regular school, based on her three-day experience there. Also, the teachers behave in a way that is somewhat contrived as they seem inhibited by the camera’s presence, detracting from the film’s believability. The young participants, however, seemed unaffected and at ease.

     Despite these minor shortcomings, Ming’s First Day of School is entertaining, interesting, and thought-provoking, and it would be a valuable addition to any public library. The film would also fit into any English, science, or social studies unit. Participants’ responses given during the interview segments may serve as good starting points for class discussions.


Andrea Szilagyi is a graduate student studying children’’s literature at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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