Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Opinion Blog


Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform.

Education Opinion

Bad Teacher? A Breath of Fresh Air

By Rick Hess — June 27, 2011 2 min read

On Friday, I finally walked out of an edu-movie without having to scrape off the sanctimony and treacle. Whether heartrending dramas or documentaries, edu-cinema has long gone for the mawkish affectations of ridiculously heroic educators reaching ridiculously noble kids.

After decades of watching (and digging) these movies, it was sheer joy to watch the just-released Bad Teacher, starring Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Justin Timberlake, and Molly Shannon. Bad Teacher is rude, profane, frequently mean-spirited, and shockingly cavalier about things we’re supposed to speak of in hushed tones. I took my AEI team to see it on Friday, opening day, and not everyone had much use for its gratuitous sex, drugs, and general nastiness--and its failure to push harder on the satirical possibilities.

The complaints are all valid. But, I dug Bad Teacher because it treated teachers, students, and schooling with snark, humor, and attitude, rather than the kid-gloves sentimentality that turns almost every edu-movie into a tedious, predictable morality play.

Now, I love uplifting school movies as much (hell, probably more) than anyone. I get teary-eyed every time I watch Teachers; Stand and Deliver; Blackboard Jungle; To Sir, With Love; Lean on Me; Coach Carter; and the rest of the oeuvre. But running through them is a messianic, sanctimonious vision, in which teachers lose faith, are saved by rediscovering the import of serving their flock, and become agents of salvation. None of this shows much interest in whether unredeemed sinners can be good teachers, whether annoying kids may sometimes have only themselves to blame, or in having fun with the pained routines of the schoolhouse.

And that’s a shame, because cinema can help us contemplate and discuss these kinds of questions. I’ll lay odds that Office Space has spurred more self-recognition among bosses and office workers than any of your Boiler Rooms or Wall Streets. That’s because earnest sincerity is good at telling viewers what they’re supposed to admire, but isn’t real good at prompting uncomfortable or complex conversations.

Bad Teacher is full of moments like that. Cameron Diaz, as the dope-addled, hard-drinking, ill-mannered bad teacher of the title, has exchanges with kids like you never see on the big screen. She’s unapologetically bored by a moony-eyed kid’s awful middle school poetry and tells him that he’s never going to do well with the ladies wearing the same battered sweatshirt three days a week. Faced with the perky suck-up who tells her she wants to be president, Diaz asks whether she really means it--and tells her that remark is the kind of obnoxious statement that’ll get her punched.

The scenes with the principal, in the faculty lounge, and among teachers staffing lunch, are cringe-worthy rather than saccharine. And, even if that’s just a window into my own blackened heart, I found the experience a sweet breath of fresh air.

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Branding Matters. Learn From the Pros Why and How
Learn directly from the pros why K-12 branding and marketing matters, and how to do it effectively.
Content provided by EdWeek Top School Jobs
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Join experts from Samsung and Boxlight to learn how to make learning more interactive from anywhere.
Content provided by Samsung
Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

BASE Program Site Director
Thornton, CO, US
Adams 12 Five Star Schools
Director of Information Technology
Montpelier, Vermont
Washington Central UUSD
Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools
Director of Athletics
Farmington, Connecticut
Farmington Public Schools

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: January 13, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read