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When Hollywood Goes to School, What Do We Learn?

Following this year's Academy Awards, I heard some murmurs on the Internet that all Hollywood has to say about school anymore is in support of charter schools and against teachers. After all, one of the most-hyped education movies of 2012 was "Won't Back Down," yet its ties to the conservative Walden Media had many teachers scowling. Has Hollywood given up on public schools?

Not really. 2012 was actually a good year for education films, and in retrospect, especially for movies that centered around school climate. For instance, there's the well-received "Monsieur Lazhar," about an Algerian immigrant teacher living in Montreal, who is hired as a replacement for a teacher who commits suicide.

On the other end of the spectrum were two comedies, "21 Jump Street" and "Here Comes the Boom," and, hey, I see you rolling your eyes. Stop that! There is truth in comedy. The former involves two undercover cops investigating drug trafficking at their old public school. It's a clever twist that shows the extent to which the football-players-and-cheerleaders-as-alphas model is shifting.

In "Boom," the teacher tries to save his cash-strapped school from cutting extracurricular activities by becoming an ultimate fighter. "Stand and Deliver" it's not, but it is literally a public school teacher going to the mat for his class, as well as a reminder of the pain that program cuts—and ultimately, school closings—can entail.

And finally, there's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," based on a novel that could be this generation's Catcher in the Rye. It explores how emotional and physical abuse play out among students, and makes a good indirect case for better counseling programs, especially when it shows the stigma that still exists around being a gay teenager.

There are valid concerns about film portrayals of schools. Teachers worry about being as hammered in fantasy as they feel they are in reality. There's an opposite perception, though, too: When one well-hyped movie negatively portrays traditional schools, the film industry must be out for blood. But for all the attention that certain issue-based movies get, many better-received movies also exist.

—Ross Brenneman


Administration Cites Education in Brief on Same-Sex Marriage

Protecting schoolchildren from being taught about gay marriage is not a valid legal justification for a state law prohibiting same-sex unions, President Barack Obama's administration told the U.S. Supreme Court in a brief.

U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. filed the brief in one of two major cases on same-sex marriage that the justices will hear arguments about later this month. The administration is a party in one case, United States v. Windsor, though it no longer defends the federal Defense of Marriage Act that is at issue in that case.

In Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case involving California's Proposition 8, the administration was not required to file a brief, but it opted to chime in anyway.

Prop 8 was a 2008 ballot measure that withdrew the right of same-sex couples to marry in that state. One of the original rationales offered by proponents was that the measure would protect "our children from being taught in public schools that 'same sex' marriage is the same as traditional marriage," as official voter guides put it.

The private California residents defending Prop 8 in the Supreme Court have abandoned the education rationale, focusing instead on arguments that the traditional definition of marriage furthers a state interest in responsible procreation and child-rearing.

Still, the Obama administration brief addresses the original education argument.

"Any such 'educational' interest cannot sustain Proposition 8," the solicitor general saysRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader in his brief. "Insofar as the interest in insulating children from any lesson that same-sex marriage is 'okay' is founded on a moral judgment, that interest is inadequate under this court's precedents."

In any event, the brief notes, California public schools have not been required to teach anything in particular about same-sex marriage, either before or after Proposition 8, and under state law, schools and teachers are barred from offering instruction that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation.

—Mark Walsh

Vol. 32, Issue 24, Page 11

Published in Print: March 13, 2013, as Blogs of the Week
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