To the Editor:
An advertisement that ran in your Aug. 9, 2006, issue for the TNT network’s made-for-television movie “The Ron Clark Story” caused me much concern.
In the ad, I saw a powerful image: a very white teacher standing before six very nonwhite, secondary-level students. The teacher has a Mona Lisa (what does he know that we don’t?) smile; the students are clearly not smiling. The teacher also wears a suit and tie, along with trendy, wire-rimmed glasses, all indicators of his higher social—and intellectual?—status.
The text says of teacher Ron Clark: “He believed in them when no one else would.” But the clear subliminal message is that an apparently youthful, superior, friendly, middle-class, white male is the only hope for obviously disaffected, suspicious, nonwhite, lower-class, and inner-city students.
Given a network’s willingness to sponsor such blatant and nonproductive stereotyping, is it any wonder concepts like “at-risk students” (redefined by the No Child Left Behind Act as “low performers”) become self-fulfilling prophecies?
I hope other readers were at least troubled, if not palpably startled, by the stereotyped and simplistic messages blaring from that advertisement. Yes, Ron Clark was on Oprah Winfrey’s show and was Disney’s Teacher of the Year in 2000. His work is indeed noteworthy (as is the work of millions of other teachers). But I would be surprised if he, too, were not concerned about the smugness conveyed by this ad.
So many have worked so hard for so long to neutralize these sorts of detrimental myths. I remain optimistic that others did not overlook the toxic implications of this image.
Charter College of Education
California State University
Los Angeles, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the September 13, 2006 edition of Education Week as Ad for TV Movie Upset This Reader