Alumni Spotlight: Tyler Burdenski 07F
Attending public schools in Texas and then coming to Massachusetts for higher education, Tyler Burdenski 07F witnessed firsthand the differences curriculum flexibility makes in a learner’s mind. As a response, he created the documentary Our World in Their Eyes, which journeys into four classrooms in Texas and Massachusetts and explores their stories through creative film vignettes.
“It became so important to me to look at how minds work and how to have a solution for each one,” he says. “We need to be able to teach them all. For my film, I looked at both Texas and Massachusetts, which are pretty much on opposite scales when it comes to curriculum design.
“Massachusetts is more flexible,” he says, “and that flexibility leaves room for success for different kinds of students. Right now, Texas is basically rewriting history with its textbooks and curriculum. [The books are] erasing people’s stories. Whose values are being reflected? What’s being said about who matters?”
In a key scene in Our World in Their Eyes, a teacher stands among his elementary-aged students and talks to them about the definition of freedom: “Think about the Texas Revolution from the Mexican citizens’ point of view. What about the Native Americans? They’re going to lose out, too. You’re going to hear a lot about Colonel Travis at the Alamo, talking about freedom. But who was standing behind Colonel Travis? His slave. So it gets complicated, doesn’t it? It’s never as simple as sometimes we would like it to be.”
Burdenski continues his film work now that he’s graduated from Hampshire, and for him the effort to eliminate educational bias is far from over.
“I’m been working on a film since last fall with another Hampshire alum,” he says. “There are a series of public schools closing in Oakland, California, as a result of districts in huge debt. They’re closing schools to save money, but those schools are mainly in communities of color. I went to five communities that lost a school and some of them were great. They were rallying, trying to get their schools back.”
When he isn’t busy on his documentary, Burdenski works as creative producer at SNP Communications in San Francisco.
Burdenski says he owes much of his success to his Hampshire committee, Professors Baba Hillman (chair) and Viveca Greene (member). “Their support was incredible,” he says. “I couldn’t have done it without the freedom they gave me.”