After watching the infrequently seen Blue Car last night and with the Julia Roberts vehicle, Mona Lisa Smile (MLS), coming soon to several hundred theaters near you, I’ve been thinking a lot about “classroom movies,” films that focus on the teaching profession in some way. I haven’t seen MLS, and likely won’t (Julia Roberts’ presence in the film negates any enthusiasm I’d have for seeing Maggie Gyllenhaal), but essentially MLS focuses on Roberts’ teacher coming to an all-girls school in the 1950s and encouraging her students to challenge social norms. Essentially, it’s Dead Poets Society with women (at least that would be the pitch; the relationship between the films is certainly more complicated). It’s cool that these films celebrate learning the humanities, and not just as an end, but as a means for questioning socially expected roles (marriage and family in the case of MLS), but quite honestly, I really don’t like these kinds of films, or how they characterize the classroom experience. I can’t quite pin down why. It could be the star personas of Robin Williams (who plays in another feel-good classroom film, Good Will Hunting) and Julia Roberts. It could be that the films limit how our profession is understood, or what becomes identified with good teaching (having your students stand on a desk or kick soccer balls while reciting Romantic poetry). I’m honestly not sure.
I do have some mixed feelings about Blue Car in that it seems to repeat (Oleanna, Educating Rita, Surviving Desire, the utterly pretentious Storytelling) another version of a limited range of narratives about teacher-student relationships, especially male teacher-female student relationships. To be fair, Blue Car is the only example I can recall where the film is told by a feamle writer-director, explicitly through the eyes of the student. I actually do like several of these films (especially Rita, which is actually a very complicated film), so hopefully I don’t sound too dismissive here. I know this abuse of power is an important topic, and I also know that films need some form of tension, but I am troubled by the limitations on how our profession is represented. So, I’ll turn the floor over to you, my readers.
Which films about teaching do you like? Which ones do you loathe? Why?
If I get some comments, I’ll tell you my favorites….