Hero-Teachers and Counter-Narratives in Federal Education Policy and Popular Films, 2001-2012
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The goal of this paper is to identify the dominant narratives about the roles of teachers to transform education present in both federal policy and popular films, and then expose the counter-narrative present in the films that questions that same policy. The dominant narrative identifies teachers as the solution to all social ills of our urban classrooms, including poverty, racism, and violence. No Child Left Behind (2001) and the rhetoric of education debates surrounding it place immense responsibility on classroom teachers, individualizing the problems of educational inequalities and simplifying imagined solutions. Three popular films reinforce this narrative by portraying hero-teachers that educate students despite widespread difficulties. In Akeelah and the Bee, Freedom Writers, and Won’t Back Down, panoramic shots of urban violence encourage the audience to understand the scope of problems teachers have to face, while simultaneously paying clip-service to instructional moments in order to gloss over those difficulties. Precious, however, introduces a counter-narrative: a teacher works with a small class, developing incredibly personalized relationships with a few students in order to help them overcome the trauma they face outside the classroom. Interestingly, this counter-narrative is reinforced by the other three films, albeit unintentionally. In each, the truly transformative educational moments occur in personalized settings, breaking down the myth that the hero-teacher can solve widespread inequalities for large groups of students with no additional support. The counter-narrative thus challenges educational policy of the last decade, raising questions about the logic behind current reform efforts. My research included a close analysis of the four previously mentioned films, as well as a historical survey of federal education legislation and a study of the rhetoric surrounding teacher evaluation in the last decade.
Franklin and Marshall College Archives, Undergraduate Honors Thesis 2013
- F&M Theses Collection