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Education Opinion

Pop Culture Finally Notices There Are Lots of Teachers

By Sara Mead — May 11, 2011 1 min read

Alyssa Rosenberg reports on a forthcoming wave of school- and teacher-focused TV shows and movies, attributing the new pop culture focus on education to increased awareness in the wake of Waiting for Superman, Race to Nowhere, and other education-focused documentaries.

My question is: What took so long? In fairness, pop culture is no stranger to education--the saintly teacher movie is a well-worn cliche, and some of our most cherished movies and TV shows have draw gold from high school drama (and comedy!). But given the prevalence of both dramas and comedies organized around the workplaces of doctors, lawyers, and police detectives, I’ve always wondered why there have been so few notable TV shows oriented around schools as workplaces. Or why young female TV and rom-com characters are roughly 200x as likely to be employed as publicists, journalists, or chefs as they are teachers (given that the reality is much the opposite).

After all, there are 3.5 million elementary and secondary teachers in the United States--more than the number of doctors, lawyers, and police and detectives combined. And that’s not even counting other education professionals. Clearly, the profession deserves a bit more pop culture love.

That said, pop culture has not always done the greatest job when it does deal with education. The sainted teacher pic is a much derided cliche for a reason, and almost inevitably does a disservice to the real difficulty of being a good teacher. In teen-focused TV and movies, teachers and adults are often notably absent or total idiots (which may well reflect the perceptions of teen protagonists but is also not accurate). Even the Wire, brilliant as it was, was notably ham-fisted and preachy in some elements of its treatment of education--although others rang true.

So it wouldn’t be surprising if education types view the news of a forthcoming slate of school-focused TV shows and movies with a bit of trepidation. We’ve all sat with lawyers, doctors, or forensic scientists as they flinched through an episode of Law and Order or CSI. Here’s hoping the forthcoming slate of school shows don’t have the same effect on you and me.

The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook 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.

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