Course connections for “The First Grader”

Suggestions for using The First Grader in your class:

Synopsis from:

The First Grader: The Story

In a small, remote, mountaintop primary school in the Kenyan bush, hundreds of children are jostling for a chance for the free education newly promised by the Kenyan government. One applicant causes astonishment when he knocks on the door of the school. He is Maruge (Oliver Litondo), an old Mau Mau veteran in his 80s, who is desperate to learn to read at this late stage of his life. He fought for the liberation of his country and now feels he must have the chance at the education so long denied—even if it means sitting in a classroom alongside six-year-old children.

Moved by his passionate plea, head teacher Jane Obinchu (Naomie Harris) supports his struggle to gain admission, and together they face fierce opposition from parents and officials who don’t want to waste a precious school place on such an old man.

Full of vitality and humor, the film explores the remarkable relationships Maruge builds with classmates some 80 years his junior. Through Maruge’s journey, we are taken back to the shocking untold story of British colonial rule 50 years earlier, when Maruge fought for the freedom of his country and eventually ended up in the extreme and harsh conditions of the British detention camps.

The First Grader is a heartwarming and inspiring true story of one man’s fight for what he believes is his right in order to overcome the burdens of his past. It is a triumphant testimony to the transforming force of education.

Concepts to explore in the following classes:

COR 120:
How is Maruge able to become part of a community filled with people so different (almost 80 years younger) from him? What does he do and say to create community?

What does the teacher, Jane, do as a leader? How does she reflect what Plato says about what leaders are responsible for in a community?

How does the larger community view Maruge’s right to be in the classroom? Does this differ from the way individuals in the community see the situation?

The Secular & the Sacred
What does Maruge appear to hold as sacred? Is this the same or different than others around him?

How does history, what has come before, influence what Maruge holds as sacred?

It what ways is education sometimes seen as sacred rather than secular?

Global Studies: Human Rights
Was Maruge’s “right” to be educated questioned because of his age, his former political history, or both?

Are the young’s more important than those of the elderly? Should they be?

Should political leanings or allegiances affect who gets basic rights?

Should education be considered a basic right?

Marketing, Advertising, Public Relations, Broadcasting, Brand and Account Management
How would you market the opportunity for the elderly who never learned to read to “go back to school” to learn?

How would you promote literacy to a group of elderly people who felt stigmatized by their illiteracy?

How might you promote the use of government funds to end illiteracy among the elderly?

Electronic Media Writing & Publishing
How might you script this movie as a short conceptual video promoting literacy among the elderly?

How would you craft a new report about the concepts in this movie?

How would you craft a human interest piece on NPR about the concepts in this movie?

What PSA could you write for a local issue based on the concepts in this movie?

Media and Society, Film/Film History, Video Storytelling, & Audio Production
How were the actor’s mannerisms, dress, way of walking, and other details used to show us the depth of the Maruge character?

What other films dealt with an age and/or political leanings versus rights situation?

Why do you think this is a National Geographic film? What is the tie-in here?

Human Communication &Small Group Communication
How does the teacher facilitate group communication in her class?

How is the way that Maruge communicates different and the same as his classmates? As his teacher?

Does education change the way that Maruge communicates? Do you think education usually does this?

Game Design, Game Development, & Art & Animation
How would you design a game promoting literacy for the elderly that was easy for illiterate seniors to play?

Drawing, Art History, Sculpture
How would you use specific aspects of drawing to portray Maruge’s character?

What might an abstract sculpture representing literacy look like?

Graphic Design, Typography
What font would you use to portray the power of literacy?

How might you design a poster promoting the need for senior literacy?

How might you design a poster promoting this movie for various audiences?

What would Maruge have to overcome or handle in order to go back to school?

What do you think enabled Maruge to persevere?

What impact do you think Maruge’s presence might have on his fellow pupils?

How would you make an elderly student feel comfortable in your classroom?

What potential challenges might be involved teaching someone older or worldlier than you?

How far should you go to advocate for your students’ rights?

Writing, Creative Writing, Creative Non-Fiction, Journalism, & Interactive Storytelling
How might an author tell this story from each of the different character’s perspective?

How might this story be used as part of an anthology?

What non-fiction topics can be found within this movie?

What choice points could you embed in this story to make it interactive? What would be some of the possible consequences or outcomes of those choices?

This movie is “based on” a true story; does that make it true?

Write a poem about fulfilling a dream late in life.

Write a children’s story about the man who learned with children.


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