This year’s Oscar winner for best short-subject documentary, Educating Peter, follows Peter Gwazdauskis, a child with Down syndrome, as he enters third grade in a public school in Virginia. At first, Peter’s behavior disrupts the class; both his teacher, Martha Ann Stallings, and his classmates are startled and not a little frightened by Peter’s outbursts and physical aggressiveness. As the school year proceeds, however, Peter makes remarkable progress, and the class’ attitude toward him changes — instead of cowering or avoiding him, they encourage and help him. ”He changed because we changed,” says a classmate.
Educating Peter, produced and directed by the team of Gerardine Wurz-burg and the late Thomas C. Goodwin, doesn’t come across as propaganda in favor of mainstreaming Down syndrome children. Indeed, as heartwarming as the film is, many viewers will probably come away feeling that Peter’s presence was too time-consuming and distracting for the rest of the class. But this objectivity only makes Educating Peter more compelling and moving. A-