LISTEN now available to watch online for free

This time last year I was in the middle of filming a documentary called LISTEN about education from the student’s perspective. It’s now 2014 and the film has been done for about six months. What has it been doing since then? Not much. Its had a handful of screenings at a few places, but mostly its been sitting around doing nothing. Given our (“our” meaning my friend Kelsey and I) limited resources, time, energy, and honestly a bit of incompetence maybe it’s time for this little experience to try a different approach. We’re releasing the full film online for free so that it could reach a wider audience just as testing season is about to start in schools all over the nation. We’ll still continue organizing screenings and so if you’re interested please send us an email at, but we’re also opening up access to the film to those who can’t host screenings.

In school I can’t describe the immense loneliness that came from seeing everyone around me going to class, doing their homework and taking their tests with relative ease while I for some reason just couldn’t. I figured that I wasn’t the only person who felt stifled by school and decided to make a film about it. After I started sharing how the education system was affecting me I got in contact with people from all over the world, including some of my friends. One of the best students in my high school, somebody who I always assumed had it together, told me how damaging school was to her. Another shared how the stereotypes of being a racial minority affected her. Even my college roommate mentioned his struggle, and said he would be transferring to a university closer to his home. I no longer felt alone. That’s what a story can do.

Yes I’m aware of the flaws of this film. I realize that the title LISTEN is counter-intuitive to the argument made in the film because it’s speaking to adults to take action rather than students. I realize that the first ten minutes feels like a boring PowerPoint presentation, that the font used is ugly as hell, that there is too much Sigur Ros in the soundtrack, that my narration very inarticulate, that it’s a bit lengthy, that throughout this process social media has not been utilized as effectively as it could have, and that it lacks effective transitions from scene to scene. But, despite its shortcomings I set out to make the kind of film I would have enjoyed watching while I was in school and if LISTEN can make its way to just one student who can relate to some of the characters in the film and feel just a little bit less alone while traversing the mess that is our education system then….

Is anyone even reading this?

If you’re still reading this I hope that means you’re interested. And if you’re interested then please, help me out. Help not just myself, but the countless other students who can’t keep living under this oppressive system anymore. Watch the film. Write about it. Recommend it to your friends. Share it. Tweet it. HBO if you’re reading this feel free to play it on TV. And then once you watch the film do the world another favor. Opt out. Boycott. Walkout. You can even skip the step where you watch a talky documentary, because really it’s just about the action. So stop reading this and go do something. We need you. Please please please…..

Watch the full film at the link below

And lastly thank you to everyone who has supported the film. It truly means a lot.


Tallgrass Sudbury School screening

Around this time last March I was at the Tallgrass Sudbury School learning about different methods of teaching and schooling. I spent two weeks there filming and interviewing the students and teachers. Well, a year later I returned to screen the finished film in front of a room full of  students, teachers, and parents to see themselves in the documentary. And it was excellent. Lots of inspiring conversations and people. I just want to thank the folks at Tallgrass again for their continuous support and encouragement I’ve learned a lot for you all.

Comment of the night:

Adult: Yeah, but what’s the alternative to the system?                                         11 Year old student: You’re standing in it!


Why Ariel dropped out

Ariel Davis is a high school student who decided to drop out. Below is a blog post about why she came to that decision.

From Kindergarten through 5th grade, I loved school. Even in my first year of middle school I was a straight “A” student; always doing my homework, showing up on time, and retaining every piece of information I could possibly hold. Toward the end of that year I noticed that I had stopped trying as hard; not seeing its importance. I didn’t feel the need to try. When my 7th grade year came, my interest in school had totally diminished. What bothered me, though, was that I didn’t seem to care, and I couldn’t make myself care. Notice I said my interest in SCHOOL, not education. From middle school until now, my disinterest, dislike, and frustration with school only grew stronger. I had been considering quitting for a long time. This wasn’t because I’m lazy or that I don’t want to put in the effort, but because I couldn’t find its relevance or purpose for me. I know all the things school is SUPPOSED to do; form a skilled workforce, create a literate and educated group of citizens, teach social skills and self-discipline, but I strongly feel as though what school really does, more than all else, is deplete our interest in learning. I use school, not necessarily as the building itself, but as the education system its run by.

We’re all born with an innate thirst for knowledge. That’s clearly seen in our toddler and Pre-K years. All throughout our history, we’re constantly trying to create and invent and discover things never before seen or heard of, or thought about. Thomas Edison, one of the greatest thinkers and inventors in history, never finished his schooling. In fact, he was thought to be incredibly stupid. Even if he had completed his education, it would’ve been nothing like what’s being enforced in schools now. Learning, becoming educated, does not mean having facts and terms crammed into our heads or being piled up with worksheets, tests and homework. Rather, it means learning by experience, having the opportunity to discover and figure things out on your own. One definition of education is actually “an enlightening experience.” In schools today, teachers are required to teach so much material in such a short period of time, it’s not really learning anymore. It becomes memorization, usually for an upcoming quiz or test, only to pass it, move on and forget all of it until It’s brought back up again in a later lesson, year etc.

Another issue is that a main concern for most teachers is covering the necessary material to pass a test at the end of the year. The problem with this is that more than half of the time, they don’t even know what material to cover for it, as they are not permitted to see these tests. Continuing on the subjects of tests, a huge problem in schools is standardized testing. Contrary to its name, they aren’t really standardized, considering that every year they raise the standards. You can’t continue to test a class of students at higher levels than the class of the previous year and expect better results.

Sir Ken Robinson, an English man who works in education reform made the point that schools are structured like factory lines. He says that students are grouped in “batches,” so-to-speak, according to the year they were born, as if that has any relevance to how intelligent you are and in what fields of study. In an article online, one man said that school separates students into two groups: t hose who conform, and those who fail. He then elaborates on this saying that the conformers are those who memorize every fact, finish every homework assignment, and ace every test, staying up all night studying, and never question any of it. The failures are those who challenge the system and question its relevance, often having very bright minds accompanied by “Ds” and “Fs” on report cards. This issue makes for many intelligent people going unnoticed and never reaching their full potential. Like I said before, these are all problems I have with the education SYSTEM, not education itself.

I love to learn, as do most high school students. The problem is that many of them don’t realize this because of the way we have to “learn” in school. I know this isn’t the teachers’ fault, and that they would probably like to see lots of changes themselves. I just feel that our education system needs an enormous reform and that’s why I choose to continue mine online and on my own time. If, in the years ahead, I realize I made the wrong decision, I’ll take every “I told you so” that gets thrown at me. Until then, I’ve thought long and had about this, I’ve done my research, and I feel very confident in the choice I’m making.

Ariel Davis
High school junior from Randleman High School

Sarah Lawrence College Screening

Last Thursday on February 6th LISTEN screened at Sarah Lawrence College to an audience of about 45 college students and community members. Following the screening a discussion was held with myself, Ankur, in attendance. The discussion was definitely insightful with lots of positive comments about the film. The best moment was when someone said after the screening, “Watching your movie makes me want to start a revolution.” Hopefully she does.

There are many more screenings to come in the next few months. Check out the schedule to see if there’s one near you and if there’s not then organize one yourself!


Some crappy photos taken on my 1.3 megapixel camera phone from the event.


LISTEN toolkit and storytelling campaign

Hey everyone!

We have a new website to symbolize a new start! So we here at the LISTEN team (which is really just the director Ankur Singh and his friend Kelsey) have been off the interwebz for a few months and we apologize for that. Distributing the film has been more difficult than originally thought and quite honestly we have no idea what we’re doing. So last fall has been kind of slow, but this spring we have sort of a half plan, but a lot of heart and are ready to get going! So here is our sort of a half plan. Click on the links for more information.

1)   Toolkit

We have designed a special one of a kind toolkit for you to use as a guide and resource to organizing screenings of the film!

2)   Storytelling Campaign

We are going to start blogging more and sharing stories of what’s happening in public education in addition to creating a new short film for the internet called THIS IS NOT A TEST.

3)   Using the film as a tool

We now realize that screenings are not the end goal, but we must use the film to support already existing campaigns and organizations as a tool to create change. We’re doing this by contacting groups around the country and figuring out how the film can fit their needs rather than the other way around. And so far it’s going well. We’ve got six screenings coming up check them out on our screening schedule.

Please bear with us, we’ve never made a documentary before or distributed one without any funds. We’re trying our best and hopefully we’ll figure it out eventually. The most important thing is we’re learning a lot but that’s the whole point isn’t it?

First Screening has been Set!

Please join us for the first-ever screening of LISTEN, a student-made, feature-length documentary about standardized testing from the student’s perspective. 


Fo more information about the film:

Not many have described this film and its purpose better than education blogger and friend of the filmmaker, Ankur Singh, Stephanie Rivera. 

“Ankur Singh, student at University of Missouri-Mizzou, took a semester off to interview and film various students, teachers, parents, activists, and all the alike from all over the country to get their perspective on the current state of our education system.

What I personally found compelling of this film is, first, this is made by a STUDENT. How much better can that get?! I think that in itself reflects the extremity of attacks our current system is facing, especially considering he recently graduated high school less than 2 years ago. Something has to be significantly wrong where a student is so provoked to create such a film. But, additionally, he provides so many different voices and components of our current education system. 

The film was originally supposed to focus on the effects of high-stakes testing, but it ended up going much, much further than that. He brings out voices of students in our highest-poverty schools, students who have had to withdraw from college due to the amount of student debt, and teachers forced to implement policies that do nothing for student learning. He assures this film is something any person watching can relate to.”


The screening will take place in Room 113 of the Arts & Science Building at the University of Missouri on Monday, October 14th at 7:30 p.m. The event will include a Q&A session with Mizzou student and filmmaker, Ankur Singh. 



Hey everyone!

Ankur here, I just wanted to let you all know that after months of work the documentary is now DONE and ready to be seen. Once again, I just wanted to thank everybody for their help and support this could not have happened without you. From connecting me to interviewees, to being an interviewee, to donating money, giving me a place to stay, and offering feedback the amount of support was incredible. I’m really excited to finally start showing the film to people and if you want to screen the film in your community send me an email at

There’s still a lot of work to be done in getting this film seen so as of right now the biggest thing you can do to help is by watching the trailer below and sharing it with your friends!