Popular Hollywood storylines often depict a dedicated and talented superstar teacher hellbent on fixing the problems of America’s educational system single-handedly, usually one class at a time. Yet, these simplistic and often mythic stories can actually infiltrate schools, argues Anne Beatty, and distort “a teacher’s expectations of both her power and her complicated students.”
“Most teachers I know hate the movie Freedom Writers, in which a Long Beach, California, teacher leverages writing to convert apathetic students into crusaders for justice,” says Beatty.
Thinking back on her own experiences in teaching, Beatty insists that these simplified stories can, in fact, distance a teacher from her students by reinforcing “the power imbalance created when a teacher arrives thinking she already knows who her students are and what miracles she should perform.”
It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially in light of the insistent and ubiquitous Hollywood teacher-savior plot line, one in which the roles of teacher and student are ridiculously and dangerously simplified to reflect a “middle-class fantasy.”
In other words, as Robert Bulman puts it in his paper “Teachers in the ‘Hood: Hollywood’s middle-class fantasy,” these films insist that students will ultimately succeed or fail because of values, “values they either do or do not adopt from their empathetic teacher-savior,” and not because of the deeper “social structural processes” that are also encouraging or thwarting their progress.