The Hollywood Curriculum: Teachers in the Movies

The Hollywood Curriculum: Teachers in the Movies

The Hollywood Curriculum: Teachers in the Movies

The Hollywood Curriculum: Teachers in the Movies


This book analyzes 116 films distributed throughout the United States over nearly 75 years, to construct a theory, grounded in cultural studies and critical pedagogy, of curriculum in the movies. The portrayal of teachers in popular motion pictures is based on individual, rather than collective, action and relies on codes established by stock characters and predictable plots, precluding meaningful struggle. These conventions ensure the ultimate outcome of the screen narratives and almost always leave the educational institutions-which represent the larger status quo-intact and powerful. In addition to an expanded list of films informing the analysis, this revised edition features two new chapters: one on gay teachers in recent films and another on principals in the movies.


In the process of looking at 116 films with teachers as either primary or important secondary characters, it quickly became evident to me that IHollywood dichotomizes teachers and teaching into the “good” and the “bad.” in the case of “good” teachers, these characters are almost always written to conform to a pat standard I have chosen to label the Hollywood Model. in roughly half of the films I have watched, the teacher is a main character who is presented as a “good” force in the movies, painted against a backdrop of institutional and societal woe and positioned as markedly different from most of the other teachers and virtually all of the administrators in their respective films.

Other people have written about these Hollywood teachers from different perspectives. in an article titled “Teachers in the Movies, ” Rob Edelman looks at teachers as they have been negatively stereotyped in some movies and characterized as positive role models in others. He sees “idealized” educators portrayed in two types of films:

Sentimental valentines to the careers of single-mindedly devoted teachers, anonymous human beings who over the years touch the lives of thousands; and [films about] instructors in tough urban schools whose colleagues are cynical, defeated by an educational bureaucracy and the antics of hostile students, yet who persist despite frustration and heartbreak. (p. 28)

Edelman cites a lot of examples but pays too little attention to the types of relationships these teachers have with students. His article focuses mainly on summarizing film plots and categorizing the featured teachers by gender and film genre rather than digging beneath the celluloid surface. By . . .

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