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Series:

Gary Kenton

Abstract

Many factors have contributed to the decline in support for public schools in America. Most often, blame is directed at politically conservative groups and individuals that have resisted integration, affirmative action, and other programs associated with the Civil Rights Movement. But this essay considers the impact of popular as well as political culture on the marginalization of public schools, looking specifically at the negative portrayal of schools and formal education in rock ‘n’ roll. Song lyrics and other cultural information conveyed by rock and rap artists have tended to romanticize individual creativity and freedom and to discourage a communitarian, civic orientation. As an indirect consequence, Baby Boomers and Millennials have been muted in their defense of all things public, including education.

“Good” Teacher on Her Own Terms

Miss Shaw in ABC’s The Wonder Years

Series:

Chad E. Harris

Abstract

The term “good teacher” has as many definitions as there are people who experience life as a student—or who watch television to compare their real-life teachers to those they see onscreen. In her work on teachers on film and on television, Mary M. Dalton labels the “Good Teacher” as one who very much resembles recurring attitudes about what makes a teacher “good,” but—in Hollywood as in life—such teachers often fulfill stereotypes not unlike the cowboy outsiders who save the day in Westerns. When they do achieve what looks like a substantive impact on students, they often do so in reductive plotlines that make conflict and achievement of their teaching goals too unrealistic to represent real teachers. However, Dalton’s model provides endless possibilities to study different combinations of Good Teacher qualities and formulate new interpretations of such an important category. In this essay, I take up the ABC series The Wonder Years (1988–93) and Miss Shaw, the favorite teacher of Kevin Arnold—the prototypical American teen with an ambivalent-yet-insightful attitude toward school—and argue for her importance as a Good Teacher on television because of, rather than in spite of, her decision to quit her job on her own terms. Even in leaving her post, she embodies more of what it means to be a Good Teacher than do most teachers deemed “good” and thus memorable for the lessons they teach.

In Loco Parentis Redux

Bob and Linda Belcher at Wagstaff School

Series:

Elizabeth Currin

Abstract

Grounded in a critical historical understanding of the feminization of teaching, this chapter explores representations of teaching in the Fox animated series Bob’s Burgers, featuring Wagstaff School’s well-intentioned but inept guidance counselor, Mr. Frond, an oft-villainous counterpart to Tina, Louise, and Gene Belcher’s own parents, Linda and the eponymous Bob. Because both Bob and Linda each take a turn as substitute teachers, in addition to the usual parent-teacher conference or chaperone fare, Bob’s Burgers, aside from being an underrated commentary on the American working class, also stands to make a significant contribution to scholarly conversations about education in pop culture.

The Insecure Teacher

How Issa Rae Has Normalized the Black Woman to Create TV Magic

Series:

Naeemah Clark

Abstract

In its premier season, Issa, the lead character of HBO’s dramedy Insecure works for a non-profit organization that goes into Los Angeles schools in hopes of inspiring Black students. The non-profit We Got Y’all’s staff of well-meaning, but tone-deaf do-gooders continually frustrate her while the students hone in on her insecurities, forcing her to reexamine her life. This chapter is a discussion of how Issa works to defy the patronizing norms of the non-profit to empower her students, as she works to discover how she can live her best life. Ultimately, the discussion will focus on how she navigates being a professional Black woman, educator, an undercover rapper, a best friend, and a conflicted partner while seeking her authentic self. Ultimately, this series depicts that work of educators is not only edifying for the students but also for the teacher.

Liberatory Pedagogy in Action

The Embodied Performance of Community College Instructors in Film and Television

Series:

Kristy Liles Crawley

Abstract

To analyze the marginal status of community college faculty represented in television and film, the first half of the chapter contrasts stereotypical disembodied representations of university professors with the embodied portrayals of community college faculty. In the second half of the chapter, I argue that community college instructors’ embodied performance in television and film adheres to bell hooks’s description of liberatory pedagogy, a pedagogy dedicated to close interaction with students in an attempt to cross borders and open lines of communication in a diverse classroom setting. While most embodied portrayals take place within the context of comedies, instructors reveal personal and professional sides of their characters while shedding their authoritative omnipotent image. The decentering of authority sets the stage for comedy as viewers see instructors’ faults, struggles, and strengths through their close interactions with students.

A Loyalty Test for the American Educator

From Ichabod Crane to Erin Gruwell

Series:

Steve Benton

Abstract

During the early years of the American Republic, an important strain of American popular culture helped establish the idea that there was something fundamentally un-American about those who put too high a value on intellectual community, book smarts, and cultural sophistication. Popular texts like Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1820) depicted schoolteachers in particular as arrogant, untrustworthy, undemocratic, and at some level, disloyal to fundamental American values.

Today, too many Americans have bought into the notion that schools are morally suspicious and ill-equipped to introduce students to complex ideological and intellectual issues. These suspicions of intellectual community are surprisingly—and ironically—reinforced in popular films that celebrate educator heroes. The formula for many of these films—such as Dead Poets Society (1989), Dangerous Minds (1995), and Freedom Writers (2007)—is to celebrate an educator-hero as an American icon while disparaging intellectual community more generally, a formula that they inherited from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women novels. These texts affirm the stereotype of most schoolteachers as arrogant, undemocratic, Ichabod-like tyrants while celebrating the rare alternative to the norm as the real American hero. At one level, such narratives celebrate the possibility that truly motivated educators can thrive in oppressive institutional environments, but on another level, they reinforce the dangerous belief that educational institutions and the intellectual communities they support are instinctively hostile to freedom and learning.

Mr. Miller Goes to War

Saving Private Ryan and the Children Left Behind

Series:

Jeff Spanke

I wasn’t going to add my film to a long list of pictures that make World War II “the glamorous war,” “the romantic war” … If you cheapen it, if you make it more palatable, if you somehow diminish what went on there, I think you end up doing a great disservice to what the movie as a whole is trying to communicate.

Steven Spielberg, Director, Saving Private Ryan

Abstract

Since the passing of No Child Left Behind and the subsequent creation and adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the rhetoric of American education has grown increasingly militaristic in tone. Amid a barrage of external pressures, social distrust, achievement gaps, and accountability models, the discourse (Gee, 1989) of teaching has become entrenched in a seemingly endless series of “fights,” “battles,” “strikes,” “missions,” and “fronts.” Within this bleak backdrop of institutional warfare and professional casualties, this chapter argues that the present depiction of teachers should abandon the reductively saccharine images of past teacher narratives, and instead reflect the very real conflicts teachers currently face. As a metaphor for today’s beleaguered educators, Steven Spielberg’s 1998 film, Saving Private Ryan, offers teachers and teacher educators a refreshing—albeit disturbing—glimpse into the trials and tribulations of contemporary education. While not traditionally framed as a teaching narrative in itself, the film illustrates the risks and rewards shrouded in one teacher’s mission to literally leave no child behind.

Promoted to Control?

School Office Culture in HBO’s Vice Principals

Series:

Chad E. Harris

Abstract

HBO’s Vice Principals (2016–17) does not execute the magic of entertaining while also providing meaningful, well-thought-out critiques of toxic masculinity and crude educational philosophies. Instead, the show depicts male school administrators who pull every trick, action, and word to undermine the woman who gets the job they desire. I argue that the series does not do its work in good faith but rather irresponsibly plays out, for laughs, damaging representations of the education system that leave its audience primed to believe that the real system is, too, a big, damaged joke. Yet, I could not write about this show without highlighting the aspect that almost redeems it. This is Dr. Belinda Brown, the principal. Dr. Brown is rare onscreen and in real life—she is an African-American woman principal, and she does not fit into any of the three main categories we see in onscreen principals, all reductive to draw on easily packaged conflict: the buffoon, the autocrat, or the bureaucrat. Dr. Brown falls into what Mary M. Dalton terms “principal as caring pragmatist,” a principal who is written as a fully realized character in her approach to her work. Caring pragmatics are rare onscreen, so it is important to bring this character into view, even if she is a part of a show that leaves so much else to be desired.

Q the Teacher—TV Lessons from the 24th Century

You Do Not Have to Be an Omniscient Teacher, But It Helps

Series:

Roslin Smith

Abstract

The character Q from the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation, is an obnoxious and omnipotent male humanoid, often perceived by the crew of the starship Enterprise as an interfering, condescending bully. This chapter examines Q’s key characteristics, costumes, absurd shenanigans, and his implementation of egregious exercises with the crew during seven Star Trek episodes. Q’s persona, proclivity for masquerade, and playground antics are also explored as he evolves over the course of the series from one of malevolence to a fatherly figure. Each of the seven episodes focuses on Q’s teaching ingenuity and exemplifies how his lousy behavior is really his stratagem for the illustrious Starfleet officers to learn tough lessons.

Series:

Andrew Wirth

Abstract

Without a doubt, The Hollywood Model has provided media theorists academic tools to analyze the meaning of educators within the broader apparatus of popular culture. Most notably, The Hollywood Model has utilized queer theory to analyze the gender roles and sexuality of educators. However, this piece argues that previous definitions of queer theory have been too restricting to limit its use to only gay and lesbian educators. This chapter seeks to examine queer theory through Michael Warner and Lauren Berlant’s approach to queer theory as queer criticism. Thus, expanding queer theory as the study of sexuality toward the study of attachment and belonging. To illustrate this point, this chapter examines the film Detachment (2011) to illustrate the role of intimacy and belonging between teachers and students. Reading Detachment through intimacy and belonging illustrates the potential for the expanded use of queer theory beyond films pertaining to gay and lesbian educators. In turn, illustrating that the belonging between teacher and student goes beyond the physical relationship to include emotional narratives and belonging to moments that do not exist within the present moment.