Please Vote for Me
Two males and a female vie for office, indulging in low blows and spin, character assassination and gestures of goodwill, all the while guaging their standing with voters. The setting is not the Democratic presidential campaign, but a third-grade class at an elementary school in the city of Wuhan in central China. "Please Vote For Me", which is on the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences documentary feature shortlist, packs its fleet hour with keen observations. Chroniciling a public school’s first open elections - at stake is the position of class monitor - filmmaker Weijun Chen has crafted a witty, engaging macro-lens view of human nature, China’s one-child policy and the democratic electorial process as the ultimate exercise in marketing. (Excerpted from Sheri Linden’s review in the Hollywood Reporter)
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"Please Vote for Me": Chinese Students and Democracy
Posted by: Janet S. Lohr, 7th Grade Reading/Language Arts, Musselman Middle School
"Please Vote for Me" is a unique view of the Chinese culture through the eyes of elementary school children and their parents. It documents what happens in a classroom when the eight-year-old students are allowed to vote for a class monitor. At first, the children are confused by the concept of voting, but they quickly learn about “dirty” politics and mud-slinging, unfortunately from their parents. Soon, the “candidates” are creating their own less than ethical campaigns.
If my seventh-grade students viewed this DVD, they would point out the incidents of bullying that occur frequently in the film. The class monitor is allowed, even encouraged, to use physical punishment to keep his peers under control. The parent of this same student says that beating is necessary as punishment; that as class monitor, he needs to use a firm hand when dealing with other students. The teacher does nothing while another candidate leads the class in booing the only female candidate. One of the male “politicians” shoves his mother in frustration. Even though this type of behavior is not unfamiliar to my students, I don’t think most of them would condone it. In fact, they would question why the teacher stands by and does nothing while this lack of respect is occurring. However, I could use these incidents as starting points for some excellent discussions.
Also, there are a few scenes that some of my more immature students would not be able to handle. At one point the two male candidates are talking while using the urinals; unfortunately, this would cause quite a few snickers across my classroom. There is also a scene where the father cleans his son’s bottom after the boy goes to the toilet; obviously, this is not appropriate in a middle school setting.
Personally, I found the film interesting and quite eye-opening, even disturbing at times. However, I would not use the DVD in its entirety in my middle school classroom, but I would use clips from it to show my students examples of Chinese culture and education
Please Vote For Me: A Lesson on Democracy's Flaws starring Third Graders in China
The movie begins with a teacher telling her third grade students that they will be having an election for the class monitor, a formerly appointed position whose mission involves keeping other students in line. From the very outset as the teacher poses questions like "What does it mean to vote?" and "Why is democracy important?", it is evident that the class does not understand the importance of the democratic process. However, the teacher does little to help clarify the situation and if Americans were asked similar questions, they might be left confounded, too.
Please Vote for Me would be fantastic for high school government classes in which the teacher is looking to display some of the pitfalls of democracy. While watching the film, I was reminded of Winston Churchill's words on democracy "Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." The documentary might lead to a thoughtful discussion on what aspects of the democratic process can be improved after watching this Chinese classroom fall prey to name-calling. Additionally, this movie shows externalities of the One-Child Policy in China decades after it was instituted. The heavy involvement of parents in the film with their only child offer a nice contrast to many of the students I teach that come from very large households.
The film is powerful as it showcases the inevitable transformation of elections from focusing on issues to the candidates themselves. One of the reasons that losing an election in a democracy can be so devastating is that the reason someone loses might not be their political positions, but their own personality. When elections transform into a popularity contest that condones subterfuge and name-calling, democracies lose the moral high ground that they so often claim.
One of the male candidates in the film, Cheng Cheng, exemplifies the worst attributes of American politicians. He insults the other candidates ceaselessly in public, but in private apologizes to both individually and then tries to pit them against one another. Before the talent show, he encourages other students to boo and yell during his opponents' performances. At the beginning, Cheng Cheng promises to vote for his friend regardless of the class race, but in a debate he changes his stance and is called out for being a liar. Not wanting to come down too harshly on Cheng Cheng, there are also plenty of moments when he is genuinely upset by the events that transpire during the election or when he merely wants to relax and be a regular 8-year, but his parents insist that he stay in the race. Luo Lei, another male candidate, is able to secure the election victory with a gift to all of his classmates on the day of the big vote. This idea is not an original one for Luo Lei; instead, it is his father who shares the idea and pays for the class gifts. This was a further reminder that regardless of political stances, free stuff goes a long way in securing votes. Xu Xiaofei, the female candidate, is constantly told by her mother that she has to learn the "game" and she should gather flaws and gossip on her opponents. No matter how innocent the race began, all of the candidates were dirty by the end.
Please Vote For Me stands as an indictment of democracy, but it doesn't put forward any viable alternatives. It remains up to humanity to keep working for a more perfect government.
Please Vote For Me: Successful in Grades 3-5
I am a Chinese Language (Mandarin) teacher at Linden Elementary where I teach students between the grades of kindergarten and 5th grade. I showed the film “Please Vote For Me” to 4 classes between grades 3-5 over 3 class periods. The film shows a number of 3rd grade students competing to become the class captain at their school in China. I found it to be a worthwhile film and students, by and large, enjoyed watching it.
The film “worked” in my class for several reasons. For one, it was in line with my curriculum and my classroom standards. I showed the film in Chinese with English subtitles, which is why I had the 3rd grade as my cut-off point; I wanted students to be comfortable reading the English subtitles. It enabled me to give my students another source of authentic Chinese language input in context. Because it was in line with my curriculum, they had already learned some key Chinese vocabulary that appeared in the film. I will discuss what changes I would make to my implementation of the film further along in this review. The content of the film was also relatable for my students—it shows students their age navigating the spaces and relationships of school and home. Students were drawn in and excited to make judgements about relationships between students and their families. For instance, my students were quick to note how “wrong” it was for the mom to write the speech for her daughter’s election. Students enjoyed contrasting the school and family relationships with the United States. The film, in general, engaged students while still presenting a huge quantity of authentic Chinese, so in my book, it was on a basic level a huge success.
The film of course has some shortcomings, some of which are more or less relevant to my context. A major concern of academics, for instance, is that the film is not actually a documentary, just scripted to look like one. This isn’t actually an issue with the students who I was working with. With elementary students, I was not engaging them in an analysis of democratic versus autocratic systems and power struggles. I was more interested in merely showing them authentic language in a setting they could relate to. So this concern doesn’t really hold. A more pressing issue was actually the amount of semi-nudity that occurs in several sections (I was not personally prepared for the amount of censoring I would have to do as a teacher, so this became more of an issue than was necessary in my classroom). One of the three main candidates, Chengcheng, has a tendency to go home and take off his clothes. Many of his home scenes feature him in his underwear. Censoring these sections, however, cuts out a significant amount of the storyline and his background, because it consists of almost all of his home scenes. Nonetheless, it is pretty unavoidable with elementary school students. Furthermore, there is one scene where politicking is occuring while two boys are going to the bathroom. My students were not at all mature enough to watch this scene, which is to be expected and which I should have prepared for better. A final issue would be the somewhat skewed image this school presents of Chinese schools. Academics are underemphasised though competition and parental involvement are either on point, or overemphasized. In general, I would say that inter-student conflict is depicted far more than actually occurs, leading my students to say things like “They’re really mean.” I would overcome this by exposing students to more images of China throughout the year to round out their understanding.
The film was overall, a success for my classroom, despite a few blunders that I would change the next time I implemented it. In addition to watching the film, every day I allowed for time at the end for students to unpack some of what they saw. I gave students a worksheet to note at least two Chinese vocabulary words that they recognized and at least two differences between Chinese and US schools, families, etc. I would change this worksheet into a graphic organiser, first, but I think that in general this forced the students to engage with the film more and was appropriate for their level. I would probably add additional supports for the students to engage more with the Chinese language. Other than that, however, the film doesn’t need too much structure. I would definitely recommend it to another foreign language teacher with similar age students.
Educational and Enjoyable
Actually, this film was highly recommended by one of my students who came across it a few years ago. After I ordered the film, I watched it together with one of my higher level classes. The students were amused to see how those elementary students ran for their own elections. They giggled when the boy took off the shirt and became topless and only wearing a underwear; they shouted out loud: please wash your hands after the two boys had a little talk in the bathroom; they also got very excited when seeing the entire school students going out for a morning exercise, doing facial massages and cleaning the rooms, because the students learned about the morning exercises, eye massages and classroom clean-ups from the previous reading and the culture introductions. After viewing the film, the students suggested that the American schools should employ the similar actions, such as going out for exercises, cleaning the classrooms by themselves instead of hiring janitors, etc. They recognized each parent's heavy involvement in this election; also saw the similarities between this school election and the real-life political elections.
I am pleased that the class enjoyed the film very much. It is not only beneficial for them to see a Chinese school, but also good for their listening comprehension. I was wondering if the future class will question about the bully actions that the boy, who won the election, has shown. How much the school or the teachers have placed emphasis on the bullies.
A Chinese experiment with democracy
Review by Janice Kuhn, Trinity Area High School, Gifted Support Teacher—Grades 9-12
This documentary begins with a series of questions that are posed to Chinese elementary students about what it means to vote. These young students do not have any idea of the concept of democracy. The story that unfolds is one of a third grade class as it went through the process of holding an election for the position of Class Monitor, a job that is usually appointed by the teacher. Three students, two boys and one girl, were chosen to be the candidates by their previous teachers, and each of these students was allowed to choose two students to assist as campaign managers. The documentary follows the candidates as they prepare for the various facets of the campaign which included two days of talent shows plus face-to-face debates between two of the candidates at a time.
The parents of the candidates were very involved in the preparation for each stage. It was interesting to see the ways that the parents tried to exert control over their child’s performances. However, there were some instances of resistance on the part of their children, something which as parents we have seen in our own experience. It seems that after the teacher introduced the election, she did little to provide assistance throughout the rest of the process. Bullying and the offering of bribes were just two of the methods that the students used to try to win the favor of their fellow classmates. As a result, the campaign became quite competitive. There was a display of emotions on the part of all the students as the campaign took its toll.
Aside from the story itself, this film gives viewers an inside look at a Chinese elementary school and some Chinese homes. Scenes that are portrayed at the school include the flag-raising ceremony out on the large courtyard, lunch, naps, and an exercise class. There is also a short segment on a monorail ride in which a portion of a Chinese city is shown.
While there is a brief scene in the boys’ bathroom (a shot of the two male candidates at the urinals) and one of the candidates as he undressed down to his underwear (no nudity), the film does not have any other issues which would be of great concern in order to use this film in a regular classroom. There is overall value in watching the interaction between the students and in getting a look inside an elementary school.
This film could be used to prompt comparisons between elections in our schools or in our communities and this first attempt at democracy in a Chinese elementary school. For older students who have read Lord of the Flies there could be a discussion about the similarities of what happens when groups of young people are left on their own. The film might be useful as part of some lessons on the topic of bullying. Since this film is set in a different country, it could be used to present the sensitive topic of bullying in a way that might promote more in-depth discussions on various aspects of the bullying problem in our schools.
In my opinion this film would be most appropriate for middle school and high school students. Elementary students might enjoy seeing some of the scenes from the school day as a part of a social studies lesson on China. The scenes of bullying might be a bit intense for most elementary students. Under the right circumstances, however, more mature elementary students might benefit from seeing the outcomes of bullying in the classroom.
Please Vote For Me (K-12)
Winchester Thurston School
This delightful one-hour documentary is an intimate view of an experiment with democracy in a third-grade classroom in central China. Class monitors are traditionally chosen by the teacher, but this film chronicles the first exposure to campaigning and voting this group of children has ever had. The result is a fascinating glimpse of the modern Chinese culture, and of human nature in general. It's can provide a valuable experience for all ages to view, relate to, contemplate and discuss.
One of the best parts of the film is it's unintrusive nature and the way the children act as if the camera isn't there. It follows their every moves in the classroom, the hallways, their homes and around the city, and gets some extremely candid footage. I think any child, or anyone who has been a child, has a child, or teaches children will enjoy watching Chen's up-close and personal approach and be engaged, educated and amused.
The teacher chooses three candidates to run for the position and has them choose assistants from the class. Two boys and a girl are chosen, and they immediately enlist the help of their assistants and parents. Over the course of several days there is a talent show, debate, a final speech and ultimately a vote. Along the way there is parental pressure, bribery, coersion, stress, tears, and the desire to quit on the part of the candidates. Should a class monitor be a manager or a dictator? Should this be a popularity contest, or a contest of who is most qualified for the job? Should free trips and gifts be the basis for decisions about who to vote for? Are there any ethical standards to abide by? Is this third grade in China or any town and any election in this country?
The film can be used in it's entirety or in segments. There is much to see beyond the plot. There is the relatively militaristic approach to assembly in the school yard, the order and discipline of the classroom, and the way the students eat meals and take a rest. There is also the home life of each of these "only" children, a restaurant, and an amusement park to view and look for differences and simmilarities to our society.
The film begins with the teacher asking a student, "What does it mean to vote?" The child's alarmed response is, "What?"
After she introduces and explains the process she tells the students, "This is what we call democracy."
When one of the candidates asks his parents what the meaning of democracy is he is told, "Democracy means that people are their own masters."
This film is a useful launch pad for a discussion about whether or not there is any truth to that statement.