Cevin Soling is a writer, scholar, music producer and award-winning filmmaker with master’s degrees from Harvard University in English and education. Soling’s TEDxBinghamtonUniversity talk, titled “The Truthiness of School,” discussed his view that compulsory education is harmful to children and that it is a moral imperative to get rid of it. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Pipe Dream: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Cevin Soling: I do documentary film work, I am tied in with the academic community. I’m originally from New York, but I currently live in the Boston area.
The subjects of my documentaries vary dramatically. The first one I did was on an archaeological subject. I was investigating the riddle of why Neolithic man was trepanning themselves, or boring a hole in their heads. I’ve done films that are ethnographic about tribes in Uganda, one about a tribe in Vanuatu. And now I’ve done one about education as well.
PD: Why choose to focus on education this time?
CS: I’ve been blessed that I’ve been able to make documentaries that are of interest to me. I lucked out on my first one and subsequently have had some freedom. Education, at that time, was a subject that was under-covered — there had never been a theatrically released documentary on education prior to the one I made. There still hasn’t been too many that are really student-centric. Shortly after mine came out, the following year there was “Waiting for ‘Superman,’” but that was just an advertisement for charter schools, which I thought was pretty despicable.
As far as my schooling experience, it was substantially better than the majority of people out there. The public school I went to is considered one of the best. I also had a successful outcome as far as grades and graduate school. Because of that, I thought my voice would hold more weight. It’s one thing to hear someone complain about school among the people who it destroyed, I was someone who persevered nonetheless. It is really important to get out that these are destructive places that fail to educate.
PD: Why is nothing changing if the system is so broken?
CS: Schools have become warehouses for children, babysitting factories. There is also the horror of trying to consider that what you are doing is harmful. There are so many people with money invested in education, so many vested interests that are working to keep the system as it is. Many people don’t have the capacity to envision anything else. The schools themselves rob students of their imagination and creativity.
PD: What does truthiness mean to you?
CS: Well, it is a real word! It is kind of a payback to [Stephen] Colbert for allowing me to be on his show. Truthiness is when you believe something so strongly in your gut that you reject empirical evidence to the contrary. It’s faith, really. And that’s what people have in the school system.
PD: What are the alternatives to our current education system?
CS: Well, alternatives itself is kind of a red herring. It is like saying, “What’s the alternative to slavery?” There is no alternative, just don’t do it. There is a reasonable question to do with the population that is now liberated, but that is secondary.