Rick and Pedro go to the movies (opinion)

Pedro Noguera, dean of USC’s Rossier School of Education, and I have a podcast (Common Ground: Conversations on Schooling) in which we explore our differences and try to find common ground on some of education’s most pressing issues. . I thought readers might enjoy viewing excerpts of these conversations from time to time. Pedro and I recently talked about educational films, why they’re important, and what Hollywood is doing right and wrong when it comes to education. We had a lot to say, so we split it into two parts. Here is part 1:

– Year

Pedro: I think educational films can really help the public understand what is going on in schools. But, unfortunately, this often does not happen, because in most films about education, difficult issues are downplayed for the sake of a compelling story. Still, there are a few that I love. I’d say my all-time favorite is Stand and Deliver. I like it because it is based on a true story: the work of the great teacher Jaime Escalante. He was an engineer who became a math teacher at Garfield High. For nearly 20 years, he has taught poor Latino children in East Los Angeles to pass and succeed in AP Calculus. He called his work cultivating “ganas” in children, which is another way of talking about courage and a desire to learn. He made his students believe in themselves and work hard. This is such an impressive film.

Year: You’re right, it’s a great movie. But it’s worth noting that when it comes to film education, reality inevitably bends to serve the narrative arc. It is natural, obvious. However, this also means that we get a distorted view of things. One moment in Stand and Save that I always focus on is the middle of the movie when Escalante feels defeated. He’s going to give up. The students don’t get it, and then he pulls into the parking lot and his car is gone. My heart just breaks for him. He has a hard time, his children ignore him, and now his car has been stolen. And then the students pull up on his car and it turns out they just tricked it out of gratitude. And he says: “Hey! These children appreciate me!” But what’s the message if his car really just got stolen? Movies don’t show what it’s like when someone sweats, kids don’t understand it, and there’s no magical prop. And the other part that gets glossed over in the Hollywood version is that many of Escalante’s students didn’t actually take the AP, much less pass the exam. He developed a program that was tremendously transformative for many students, but not for all. This program required a handshake between the teacher and the students who chose to take his hand, and then those who did not. You’d never know it from the movie.

Pedro: It’s true. The truth is that he made them come on Saturdays and work in the summer. Not everyone wants to do it. There were no shortcuts, no tricks, just hard work and changing their beliefs about what they could do. I think this is something that the film captures quite well.

Year: That’s where I’m conflicted because people are watching it and it’s affecting their ideas of what it means to be a good teacher. Is a good teacher capable of excelling in secondary maths and, if dynamic and enthusiastic enough, making every student want to give up their summer holidays to take Calculus BC? Is it an expectation? To what extent do these cultural images shape our ideas about what we should expect from teachers and what we should demand from students or families?

Pedro: This is true and I think this part is lost in most educational films. After Sidney Poitier died a few months ago, I thought about Sir, with love. Poitier was such a great actor, and in one of his first films, he portrayed a teacher working in a working-class school in London. He’s a black immigrant teaching these white kids, and they’re not interested in learning, especially from black people. What happens throughout the movie is that he realizes that he’s not really preparing them for school, he’s preparing them for adulthood. Although they resist at first, they eventually come to see that the lessons he shares about life—respect, honesty, treating people fairly—are valuable, and they begin to see what they can learn from this guy. This is a very strong film and probably one of the first types of films to portray the classroom as drama.

Year: That is really well said. And anyone in education who hasn’t seen To Sir, with Love really needs to. Another low-grossing 80s movie of mine is The Teachers. Nick Nolte was the hero there, and it was interesting because he was a veteran, once-passionate teacher who had given up because of the frustrations of bureaucracy and undergrad. At the heart of the film is Nolte rediscovering his will to push back, push back against the administration, the union and other vested interests, and fight for what he believes in. It’s so corny, but this whole idea of ​​popular culture sympathizing with a jaded, frustrated teacher seems really compelling. Instead of making him a villain, they made his rebirth an arc. It may be a bad movie, but I think Nolte really gets into the role and that the message, while accidental, is really profound. In general, so many of the fights the characters in these movies go through are trivial, bureaucratic, or people don’t believe in them—that part feels depressingly true.

Pedro: On that note, what about the movie Half Nelson? Ryan Gosling plays a city school teacher. He is a good teacher, but has a drug addiction. He was caught smoking crack by one of the students. Based on this secret, they establish a connection, and he becomes her protector. This film once again tells about teachers not as heroes, but as people with flaws and weaknesses. Ryan Gosling’s character is still heroic in a way, especially in the way he comes through for this student despite his drug addiction. It’s poignant and problematic in many ways, but it’s raw and reflects what I think is important in the lives of teachers—that teachers are people. Teachers face enormous challenges in life, and when I think of the challenges many teachers struggle with in juggling the needs of their students and their own mental health issues, it’s understandable that many question whether or not the job is worth it. No wonder it’s getting harder and harder to convince young people to consider teaching as a career, because it’s such a tough job.

Year: Hard to say better than that. Let’s leave it there.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length. To hear the rest of the conversation, check out Episode 12 of the Rick and Pedro Viewpoint podcast Rick and Pedro go to the movies.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.