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Reel Education

Documentaries, Biopics, and Reality Television


Jacqueline Bach

Reel Education is the first single-authored book to bring together the theoretical and practical considerations of teaching cinematic texts about education that claim a degree of verisimilitude. Given the recent influx of documentaries, biopics, and reality television shows about education, new theoretical frameworks are required to understand how these productions shape public conversations about educational issues. Such texts, with their claims to represent real-life experiences, have a particular power to sway audiences who may uncritically accept these stories as offering “the truth” about what happens in schools. Since all texts, whatever their truth-claims may be, are grounded in specific ideologies, those in the fields of humanities, education, and media and communication studies must pay attention to how these films and television shows are constructed and for what purposes. This book provides an analysis of documentaries, biopics, and reality television, examining the construction of the genres, the explicit and latent ideologies they contain, and the ways in which students and faculty might critically engage with them in classrooms.
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Acknowledgments and Introduction


As I was writing this book there were two films titled Teacher of the Year: one came out in 2014 (Strouse), and the other was scheduled to be released in 2015. Strouse’s was a motion picture film starring Keegan-Michael Key as a principal and Matt Letscher, who has just become “teacher of the year;” the other stars Angie Scioli as herself, a former “teacher of the year.” While Letscher’s is a fictional film pretending to be a documentary (a mockumentary) and Scioli’s is a documentary, both feature teachers who are not new to the profession and who are facing similar experiences. These depictions are a departure from the new-to-the-classroom idealistic teachers that dominate the genre of school films, which I define for the purposes of this book as a film that focuses on teachers, students, parents, and administrators. Films like these that are focused on similar issues—in this case, honoring two excellent teachers who are struggling to balance the demands of their teaching jobs and everything else—always catch my attention.

It wasn’t until I was preparing my materials for promotion and tenure that I realized so many of my publications and presentations had been in the field of school films. I thought that I had been writing about more “important” issues in education: young adult literature, teacher preparation, and English language arts. Looking back, however, and specifically at my first publication ← vii | viii → about a school film, Napoleon Dynamite (Hess & Hess, 2004), I...

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