The TV drama “The Fosters” is a cross between 1970s shows such as “Family” and “Eight Is Enough,” the current hit “Modern Family” and ... well, every “ABC Afterschool Special” ever made.
The show about a blended family of biological, adopted, and foster children of biracial lesbian parents addresses topics such as gay rights, teenage sex, teenage drug use and drinking, homelessness, divorce, runaways, tattoos, and transgender teenagers—sometimes seemingly all in the same episode.
The third season of “The Fosters” debuts Monday, June 8, at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific on the ABC Family channel. The series is produced by Nuyorican Productions, founded by the entertainer Jennifer Lopez.
One other topic “The Fosters” deals with a fair amount is education. With five school-aged children in the Davis Foster household, that’s bound to happen. Furthermore, Lena Adams Foster (Sherri Saum), one of the moms, works as the vice principal of the Anchor Bay Community Charter School, the San Diego school where the kids attend. The other mom in the family is Stef Adams Foster (Terri Polo), who is a San Diego police officer.
“The Fosters” has won acclaim from some quarters and disapproval from others. The conservative group One Million Moms criticized the show in 2012, well before it had even debuted, as anti-family. “Obviously, ABC has lost their minds,” the group said at the time.
However, last season the show featured a story line involving Jude, the youngest child in the family and a middle school student, who is discovering his sexuality and has some mutual affection with another boy, including what was described as the youngest gay kiss ever seen on TV. The storyline drew plaudits from the gay media advocacy group GLAAD.
I started watching the show during the second season, so I’m not up to speed on all the many story lines (even with help from Internet sites). But one of the key education episodes was “The Silence She Keeps,” from this past February.
English teacher Timothy (Jay Ali) is leading a class that includes one of the Adams Foster kids in a discussion comparing Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery with Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games series.
The principal and vice principal (Lena) confront Timothy about his teaching methods, and the teacher rails against too much testing and “private corporations trying to dictate education reform.”
“Standardized testing is a tool—one tool—used to measure a school’s success,” responds the principal, Monte Porter (Annika Marks).
Timothy says testing is teaching students to memorize, not to think.
“If you’re too dogmatic to see beyond your own classroom, you’re welcome to resign,” Monte tells him.
Timothy seemingly backs down and agrees to the principal’s direction to assign more non-fiction. (Common Core-inspired, perhaps?)
Later, Mariana (Cierra Ramirez), the Adams Foster daughter in the class, is at home, printing out a non-fiction article that Timothy has assigned. It’s titled, “Charter schools and the corporate takeover of public education; What’s at stake?”
Mariana’s mom Lena, the vice principal, notices the article. She confronts Timothy the next day. The next thing we see is Timothy entering his class to tell his students he’s being fired—so we know it’s a charter school, not a traditional public school. (The scene comes in this clip, after about a minute of a separate storyline involving some drama among the girls on the dance team.)
“Disappointingly, the administration at Anchor Beach wants me to teach you how to take tests, not how to think,” Timothy tells his students. “You all have vibrant, brilliant young minds, and I encourage you to use them. Speak up for yourselves.”
This sparks Mariana to lead a walkout of the school, to the distress of both her moms, which continues into the next episode. (But not too much longer.)
Season 2 of “The Fosters” ended this past March with a sad cliffhanger—a car accident involving two of the Adams Foster children. Because of the cliffhanger, ABC Family didn’t make any episodes from the new season that debuts Monday available for previewing.
But since the kids are still in school, I’m assuming there will be some more education story lines in the future of “The Fosters.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.