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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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Chapter 1. “Something Is Wrong in the Education System”: Manufacturing a Crisis in the School Documentary


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Manufacturing a Crisis in the School Documentary

In her book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (2013), education historian and former assistant secretary of education in George H. W. Bush’s administration Diane Ravitch argues that the real crisis in the United States’ public schools is not what the public has been led to believe. It is not, she argues, the result of poor urban schools. The real problem is the result of decades of misguided educational reform that was meant to deal with the poverty and racial segregation that created those urban schools and that resulted in today’s “market-based” reforms. Part of that narrative, she argues, can be found in the films about schools from the last twenty years. She writes:

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