Magazine article The American Conservative

Failing Public Schools Need a New Script

Magazine article The American Conservative

Failing Public Schools Need a New Script

Article excerpt

FILM

[Chalk]

Failing Public Schools Need a New Script

By Steve Sailer

ALTHOUGH THE AVERAGE Studio film cost $100.3 million to make and market in 2006, "Chalk," a sympathetic mockumentary about high-school teachers by two teachers, demonstrates that competent, insightful films don't have to be expensive. Yet while less than 0.5 percent of the typical Hollywood budget, "Chalk" still cost somewhere around $6,000 per minute, suggesting that even with digital video, filmmaking remains a do-it-yourself undertaking only for the richest or most impassioned.

The fictional premise of "Chalk" is that a documentary crew follows four young Texas educators to find out why half of all teachers quit the profession within their first three years on the job.

Hollywood screenwriters routinely regale us with uplifting tales, such as last winter's Hilary Swank drama "Freedom Writers," of teachers who rebel against what President Bush denounced as "the soft bigotry of low expectations" and inspire their impoverished students to prodigious accomplishments. In this gentle but unromanticized movie, however, the teachers view the students as similar to the constantly malfunctioning office photocopier, just another frustration of the job.

"Chalk's" main characters are two contrasting history teachers. Mr. Lowery, a shy former computer engineer, knows and cares about American history but is treated by his students with disdain until he lowers himself to their level by using his nerd skills to win a spelling bee where students quiz teachers on teen slang terms like "whpady" (which means "friend," in case you care, which you don't).

Meanwhile, Mr. Stroope (co-writer Peter Mass, who teaches geography in Austin, Texas) is a complete idiot. He makes his two smart kids stay after so he can privately warn them, "In class, try not to know as much as me." Yet he is admired by most of his charges because he exhibits the masculine self-assurance embodied by Fred Willard's smugly clueless characters in all those docu-comedies directed by Christopher Guest like "A Mighty Wind."

"Chalk" demonstrates something that parents can and surprising: how often even the rawest teachers have to wing it in the classroom with negligible guidance. Mr. Lowery is baffled that his students don't respond as logically as the computers he used to design, while Mr. …

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