Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Hollywood's Teacher Narratives Are Reductive - The Atlantic

Hollywood's Teacher Narratives Are Reductive - The Atlantic:

Hollywood's Reductive Narratives About School

“Popular teaching storylines thwart the call for systemic change by suggesting a few superstars can fix the system’s problems single-handedly.”

Image result for big education ape not a  teacher super hero

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. Though it had not yet been filmed in 2003, when I was a first-year teacher in South Central Los Angeles, I had absorbed enough teacher-savior narratives to reject their simplicity but internalize their winning idealism. These storylines can infiltrate schools, tainting a teacher’s expectations of both her power and her complicated students—like T, my 10th-grader who toted a pink teddy bear with a safety pin jammed through its ear. Trying to teach T confirmed for me the perils of these simplified narratives.
The bear, like the pick tucked in T’s afro, seemed a vaguely punk statement of insouciance. Other boys respected his I’ll-go-crazy-on-your-ass aura, maintained through spontaneous outbursts of kicking, shouting, and cursing. Afterwards, he would sink, sighing, into the nearest chair, cross his legs, and pat his hair. When cheerful, T asked to borrow things from the girls in a loud stage whisper: “Can I see your mirror? Mirror!” He spoke in either a breathy falsetto or a rumbly roar. When once I told him to speak in his real voice, he snapped, “This is my voice!” My description so far, while true, caricatures T as a problem student, impossibly alien. I don’t know what to do with T on the page any more than I did in the classroom.
Though I left his school a decade ago, in my mind, T is still refusing to slide out through the gym doors in his borrowed graduation robe. Now as a teacher in North Carolina of mostly white students, whose parents mostly watch Fox News, I teach “The Danger of a Single Story,” a TED talk in which the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie asserts that single stories are created when people are shown to be “only one thing” until “that is what they become.” My limited understanding of T was partly a result of the single story I’d heard about kids like him. The story of low-income, urban students of color has been told too often by white, middle-class people like me who are cast as main characters in pat, triumphant narratives endorsing the redemptive single story of teaching.
These simplified stories distance teachers from their students, reinforcing the power imbalance created when a teacher arrives thinking she already knows who her students are and what miracles she should perform. The caricatures—so Hollywood's Teacher Narratives Are Reductive - The Atlantic:

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