Addressing America's Brutal Past in 'The Address'

The Address shows that there’s no point to public education if students don’t walk away with useful lessons for life.

The Address

Director: Ken Burns
Distributor: PBS
Studio: PBS
Release date: 2014-04-22

Ken Burns’ The Address isn’t the greatest documentary ever made, but it’s an important one.

The film follows 50 boys from ages 11 to 17 as they struggle to memorize the Gettysburg Address for their peers at Greenwood School in Putney, Vermont. You’ve never heard of the boys, the school, or the small New England town in which they reside, but by the film’s end, you’ll be moved by their courage and perseverance.

On the surface, The Address forcefully reminds the viewer of the importance of Abraham Lincoln’s address, delivered on Thursday, 19 November 1863. As the students are taught about Civil War history and the true meaning behind Lincoln’s words, the hope is that they gain an understanding of America’s brutal past to ensure that such atrocities are never committed again.

As we probe deeper, however, we soon discover that Burns wants to provide insight into those who suffer from learning differences like dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Greenwood School specializes in guiding young boys whose personal, academic, and social progress is hindered by learning disabilities, and throughout the film, we see how important the school is to their success.

In order to challenge the students and show them that they can conquer the many hardships they’ll face, the school requires each student to memorize and recite the Gettysburg Address before graduation. Some students master the speech in their first year, while others take more time. By having the students comprehend an important chapter in American history, the school ultimately allows the students to learn about themselves.

The Address works as entertainment, but it’s also educational. On the one hand, viewers will want to challenge themselves and see if they, too, can memorize and recite the Gettysburg Address. On the other hand, parents and educators will gain a fuller understanding of individuals who deal with learning differences on a daily basis.

As the film demonstrates, these boys are incredibly curious and willing to learn, but they often struggle to overcome their afflictions. Moreover, most of them are bullied and feel ostracized, which calls attention to American culture’s lack of compassion toward those who are born different. Nevertheless, each day the students work hard and try again, until the powerful climax of the film in which they recite the speech in front of their parents, teachers, and fellow students in suits and ties.

Throughout my life, I’ve struggled with public speaking. Something about it always felt awkward and judgmental to me, and whenever I speak and others become silent to hear my words, I am overcome with feelings of dread. The boys at Greenwood School inspire me to work through this problem of mine.

They also inspire me to grasp the true meaning of Lincoln’s seminal speech. Like most Americans, I have a basic understanding of the Civil War and am aware that slavery was terrible, but I can’t really tell you what comes after “four score and seven years ago”. Greenwood School goes out of its way to teach their students that a comprehension of the material is more important than grades or test scores, and that there’s no point to public education if students don’t walk away with useful lessons for life.

The only extra provided on the DVD is a brief video of director Steven Spielberg reciting the Gettysburg Address. It isn't much, but it highlights the significance of the film, and is part of Burns' greater initiative to get people across America to learn Lincoln's words. ("Press Release"PBS)


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.