Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Teacher in the 'Hood: Hollywood's Middle-Class Fantasy

Robert C. Bulman argues that hollywood often inaccurately portrays the attitudes and outlooks of members of an innner city community through the urban-high-school genre of films. The genre typically credits a single, middle-class, outsider with the success of inner city students. The outsider, most often a teacher or principal, uses unorthodox methods to help the deprived students overcome thier socioeconomic status, and unfavorable environment in order to succeed, according to middle class values. The middle class, characterized as people who earn their income rom salaries and wages, and own their own homes, place a high calue on individualism. They value education and high-occupational status, and rationality, according to Bulman. The text argues that the middle-class values in the movies are a reflection of our society's values. Because the middle class is the dominant culture in the U.S., the movies that embrace middle-class values will do well in the box office. The effect is cyclic in ways, as the middle class feel content with the notion that members of urban communities can be saved by single teachers. The portrayal of inner-city students in movies perpetuates the culture of poverty, which asserts that the lack of motivation of the students is responsible for their inabililty to achieve middle-class values. Bulmer argues that the problems common to urban schooling requires political and social cooperation and reform, and that Hollywood unrealistically satisfies the middle-classes' indivisualist values by portraying the unorthodox teacher as the sole-hero.
While I agree with Bulman's description of middle class values, and also his claim that Hollywood may portray unrealistic solutions to the problems in inner-city schools, I disagree with a few things concerning the article. Firstly, Bulman virtually ignores the importantce of the family structure in education (and a students general well-being). In Lean on Me, Mr. Clark and his secretary (I believe) visit one of the student's living quarters because her mother was reluctantly planning on putting her 14-year old daughter into foster care. The mother of the student explained that she was a single mother, that she had given birth to her daughter at a very young age, and that she had been struggling with drug addiction. Mr. Clark convinced the mother that she must keep her daughter at any cost or that her daughter would not have a good chance of graduating or even surviving. My point here is that the scene demonstrates the importance of family structure in the child's well-being. I have not seen all the other movies, but I would wager that many of them show students from broken homes.
Call me a person of middle class values if you will, but I believe in the value of an individual's work. And although one person might not be able to transform every underprivledged student in an urban area into an excellent student, I'd like to believe that one teacher can make a difference, against all odds. I'd like to ask those who have worked in an impoverished district if they felt that they have made a significant difference in the lives of the underpriviledged students of theirs?


Abbey said...

While I agree that the article probably left out significant pieces of the movies - some of which may have depicted the 'teacher heroes' as going beyond the classroom to help students families - I think the article's thesis is all to accurate. I LOVED some of the movies mentioned in the article and was 'taken in' by Hollywood thinking that these 'teacher hero' types could make a huge difference. However, the article made me step back and realize that one teacher might be able to make a difference to a few students but the bigger problem with the model of school funding and the way schools are run (pedagogy of poverty) need to be addressed as a big picture. We can't expect every teacher in every classroom to be such a hero that they can turn things around without proper funding, resources and community and administrative support.

Christine said...

I believe that movies are made to 1-entertain and 2-to make money! I feel that these movies are made to keep people interested and what better way than to bring in a teacher or principal from a better socio-economic class and poof things are fixed! However, I do agree with you on the fact that an individual can create a better life for themselves and there isn't one teacher that can come in and be a miracle worker. I too would like to know what people think of these situation that have worked in such schools and areas. Is it the school and lack of educational supplies or is it the teaching?

Jon Tummillo said...

Awesome post. Have you ever read any Herbert Kohl? In one of his novels, "I can't learn from you," he uses the term of "creative maladjustment," or the art of not becoming what other people want you to be and learning, in difficult times, to affirm yourself while at the same time remaining caring and compassionate. He claims that this was drawn from a concept set forth by Martin Luther King Jr. adhering to social injustices of race and militarism. ‘Maladjustment’ refers to the rejection of conforming to a system all while belonging to it. In Kohl’s recollections (he spent most of his life as a public ed teacher in NYC) the education system much mimicked the structure of society, especially concerning privilege and racism. This is not atypical to many of the claims we have made thus far in class, right? Differing from adjusting to a culture, which speaks more so of the harmony between the self and the environment, maladjusting is the ability of self to act within a dynamic and contradictory environment in order to integrate cultures. I don't think that believing in an individual's work, and "hopemongering" (another Kohl term) is a middle-class value or any-class value specifically. It almost seems like an inalienable right and responsibility of any teacher- or any person in general.