Jul 21, 2010

If You Really Knew Me,' real learning

if_you_really_knew_me MTV's new documentary series "If You Really Knew Me" clearly draws inspiration from "The Breakfast Club" in its depiction of Challenge Day, a program that tries to reduce bullying, prejudice and cliques in high schools. Though cynics might think the last thing young people need is more introspection or self-affirmation, the show works. Watching the mean girls or goths or jocks drop their assigned roles, express who they think they really are and reach out to others is both moving and involving.
Rather than all-day Saturday detention, Challenge Day subjects high school kids to a day of pep talks and exercises designed to build empathy with their fellow students. Since the program takes them out of their regular classes, the kids are already favorably disposed to it, although many express misgivings because they’ve heard that everyone is going to cry.
In the premiere, airing tonight at 11 p.m., we’re introduced early on to several featured students at a California high school, each of whom is identified by his or her clique or subculture. There’s a jock, a goth girl, a loner, a student-government leader and a band geek who also happens to be gay. In this school, the kids also segregate themselves by ethnicity.
In both the premiere and a subsequent episode MTV made available for review, the program is led by a perhaps too earnest woman named Sela and a perhaps too self-consciously “street” man named Vinny. Nonetheless, they seem to strike a chord with the students.
After Vinny and Sela talk about the roles society forces on us, the kids are separated into small circles in which each one has to complete a sentence beginning with “If you really knew me…” Here’s where the revelations begin.

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