Behold the power of academia! We at Idiomanic firmly believe in the importance of a good education. As such, our contributors have selected four recommendations honouring teachers and the scholastic discipline. Secretly, they all want to be X-Men, you know.
Lean on Me (1989)
I’ve always liked John G. Avildsen’s Lean on Me, which recounts the exploits of real life high school principal Joe Louis Clark (Morgan Freeman), whose controversial disciplinary methods helped turn around Eastside High in Paterson, New Jersey, during the nineteen-eighties. I find the film inspiring because it presents kids who are genuinely forgotten by the system. Sure, we’re told Molly Ringwald’s character in Pretty in Pink (1986) is from the lower class, but what proof do we have of this? Her life seems pretty glamorous to me, especially when compared to that of the students in New Jersey’s inner city.
Joe doesn’t start off a high school principal. He gets put into this position, wondering at first whether he can do anything for these teenagers, who seem to have lost all hope. However, he manages to find a couple of teachers who, like him, believe the students of Eastside High can do better, and they work hand and hand to push the kids toward success. The cooperation between this strong leader and those in the frontline lies at the heart of Lean on Me. You see, reform can’t happen if the establishment isn’t interested in it.
Boston Public (2000-2004)
Even though children spend up to thirty-five hours a week at school, television seldom explore teen issues from the perspective of the educators. Enter Boston Public, David E. Kelly’s early-aughts drama about the trials and tribulations of a high school faculty. As has become habit with the former lawyer, Kelly uses social debate as the show’s main hook, pitting his characters against whatever controversy made headlines at the time. With kids involved, one might have been tempted to play it safe and trade in sanctimonious platitudes (I’m looking straight at you, Glee), but the teachers at Winslow High never make us feel moralized.
Why don’t we feel moralized? Because we’re not. Almost subversive in its devotion to complexity, the series focuses less on the issue of the week than on the passionate deliberation that results from the teachers each taking a stance based on what they think is best for the children. Things often get messy, and many episodes end with grave injustices left unresolved, but we admire the characters, flawed as they may be, for living by their convictions. You see, as he did with defense attorneys in The Practice, Kelley reframes educators as misunderstood heroes. It’s an idealistic take, for sure, but one that makes for compelling television.
Bill Nye the Science Guy
I love learning new stuff but not in video games. Why? Because developers always put the emphasis on the scholastic part, not on the gaming part, resulting in a boring mess. You need only look at the likes of Mario Is Missing or Captain Novolin to understand to what I’m referring. I do however enjoy educational shows, and Bill Nye the Science Guy serves as a great example of an educational program that kept me entertained even though I was long past its recommended age.
Discussing myriads of scientific topics from deep inside Nye Laboratories, the titular character is able to vulgarise even the hardest of concepts like the Bernoulli Principle or absolute zero, ensuring grade school children can understand them. The show also features kids conducting experiments you can try at home and parodies of famous songs, in which the original lyrics are substituted for the theme of the day. If your children have an interest in science, you can purchase DVDs of Bill Nye the Science Guy from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. Unfortunately, there are no season sets, so you’ll want to pick and choose the episodes before taking out your Credit Card of Science!
As a more nuanced and adult counterweight to the “bratty magician at school” subgenre that J.K. Rowling made so popular with her seven book, eight movie, and fifteen billion dollar Harry Potter series, I submit The Magicians by Time Magazine fiction critique Lev Grossman. Published in 2009, the untypically mature novel follows the unearthly academic career of high school graduate Quentin Coldwater and his Brooklyn friends, who all get invited into a magical underworld.
Drawing heavily from C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, The Magicians proves somewhat morose in tone, an aspect Grossman acknowledges and corrects in his excellent 2011 sequel The Magician King. Nevertheless, the book remains an excellent coming-of-age tale that discusses the very notion of studying and how school can change a person’s outlook for good or for ill. If you haven’t read this one yet, pick it up, and keep track of the author. I think there’s more and better to come from Lev Grossman. Plus he’s very, very bald, a look that, as you can surely tell from my cartoon avatar, I fully endorse.