Monday, June 24, 2013

The Public School Playground

post summary: Is life imitating art, or is art imitating life, when it comes to TV, movies and public school portrayals? Or is the answer more complex? Is this post basically just a poorly written movie review? Let's find out. 

I kicked off summer vacation by watching a classic 80s-style film, Summer School. The 80s is my generation's 50s; to many of us, it's a throw back to a simpler time. We ran out the door after breakfast in summer, and we ran back home at dusk -  or when we heard our moms shouting for us from front porches. 

This nostalgic movie was the latest in a long line of films and shows I've been watching lately all featuring one key shared element: The teacher as moron, and the school as a playground.

I tuned into another 80s classic, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, a few days later and witnessed the school as play time, and administrators as utter idiots barely able to function. Love the movie, by the way ... Jeffrey Jones paints the bumbling administrator as a memorable character - the perfect counterpoint to Broderick's feisty, irreverent Buehller. 

This movie's painfully moronic dean of students fits a pretty well-established pattern.  The cultural centerpiece that is The Simpsons has also been letting us all know for 25 years that public education is not a serious thing. 

There have been some attempts at semi-serious public school portrayals over the years, like Fox's Boston Public. But so often, schools are brought to life as mismanaged zoos housing animals and run by incompetents. 

This thoughtful article on teachers and TV looks back on several decades, and notes,  "TV teachers typically have one class that is featured on the series rather than several classes. With rare exceptions, there is little sense of the real work teachers engage in. Also, ongoing issues for real teachers (standardized testing, dealing with students who have learning disabilities, scarcity of resources, school violence, drugs, etc.) become "issue of the week" situations." 

(Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World)

I think that's a pretty tame commentary on the relationship between schools and TV / film, actually.  The constant, steady flow of teachers as bozos that's been slipping and sliding around the media's sensitivity filter is only pushing the public closer to demanding a comprehensive new education model. 

This continual messaging from media programming has consequences.  

  1. pro·gram  

    A planned series of future events, items, or performances.
    Provide (a computer or other machine) with coded instructions for the automatic performance of a particular task.
    noun.  programme - schedule - scheme - plan - project - bill
    verb.  programme - schedule - plan

I know the charters in my area are flooded with applications:  I spoke to a neighbor getting ready to send his child through the elementary school journey ... he's scared of our local public schools but terrified of the district next door.  

He's scared because of his perception. And perceptions can be both real and imagined ...

(Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher)

... and they can also be created. 

(Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club)

footnote: Here is the somewhat celebrated essay featured at the end of The Breakfast Club, randomly included for your 80s enjoyment.