If you build it: a documentary review

I discovered the documentary If You Build It while researching makerspaces for an annotated bibliography project.  The film caught my attention because it is about reinventing a high school “shop class,” turning it into an endeavor that can benefit an entire community.

If you build it movie

Designers, architects, and activists Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller make their way to Windsor, a poor rural community in North Carolina.  Pilloton and Miller approach the local school board, asking if they can reinvent a high school shop class in an attempt to change the economic outlook for Windsor.  The school board reluctantly agrees and Pilloton and Miller, living on grant money and credit, create a program that ultimately benefits both the students and the community.

Design. Build. Transform.

Pilloton and Miller take a ragtag group of high school juniors and, over the course of a school year, turn them into designers and builders.  They begin with what may seem like simple projects, yet some of the students have never held a tool in their hands.  The projects gradually get more complex as the students are asked to design a state-of-the art chicken coop and eventually a building that will house Windsor’s summer farmers’ market.  With Pilloton and Miller’s encouragement and unique approach to teaching, the students rise to the occasion.  Challenges mount, yet the students persevere.  In the end, they create something that each of them and the Windsor community can be proud of.

This film struck a chord with me.  Under financial duress, schools are abandoning their technical and vocational programs to detriment of both students and communities.  Students, like those featured in the documentary, that aren’t bound for college are leaving high school with few skills and even fewer job prospects.  They simply aren’t equipped to compete in the 21st century workforce.  Programs like Pilloton’s and Miller’s teach students the skills they need to compete in the workforce.  Vocational programs can incite change in communities, just as it did in Windsor, North Carolina.

If you have any interest in saving or reinstating vocational and technical programs in your community, I encourage you to watch If You Build It.   It is available for streaming on Netflix.  Share this program with educators, administrators, and even state law makers.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *