As the title suggests, Alan Aymie’s “A Child Left Behind” at the Beverly Hills Playhouse takes critical aim at the ways under-resourced educational institutions fail those they’re meant to serve -- in particular, disadvantaged and special needs students.
Directed by Paul Stein for the Katselas Theatre Company, Aymie’s heartfelt solo performance draws on his teaching experience in some of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s poorest-performing elementary schools, and skillfully interleaves it with the learning challenges faced by his son diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.
Aymie uses these personal and professional narratives to address the problematic legacy of the No Child Left Behind Act: equating learning with one-size-fits-all standardized test performance. He also takes issue with his own below-average rating in a teacher value-added analysis conducted by the Los Angeles Times. While he glosses over the ratings’ methodology, Aymie is not out to point fingers or mount a self-serving defense -- there’s enough blame to go around, and he’s poignantly honest about his shortcomings as a teacher and a parent.
Ratings notwithstanding, Aymie proves a first-rate educator here, making a cogent and compelling case that when it comes to educating children, numbers don’t tell the whole story. The piece aches with vivid descriptions of life behind a teacher’s desk in an underprivileged community where the celebrity parents are gang leaders, and advancing to sixth grade is a bad career move for youths (if they live long enough).
By strictly theatrical standards, the show’s strengths are admittedly more pedagogical than dramaturgical. Aymie invokes too many movies and TV shows as facile emotional shorthand, and attempting to act out every moment exceeds his performance agility and distracts from the simple, truthful power of his narrative. Despite his self-confessed longtime fatalistic attitude that “it doesn't pay to speak up,” it’s a good thing for us that he's changed his mind.