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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 2. “But No One Taught Me”: An Educational Mockumentary


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An Educational Mockumentary*

I am sometimes asked at conferences what genre has the best hope of capturing the realities of teaching if the documentary genre cannot. I answer that mockumentaries might offer the best representations of what it is like to be a teacher. Mockumentaries, which pull codes from the documentary and fictional film genres, such as interviews, a narrative structure, and unscripted scenes, distance themselves from the audience’s expectations for both genres—namely, to present the objective truth as well as to sustain a traditional narrative structure. Promoting itself with the slogan “Real Teaching Leaves Its Mark,” the 2006 mockumentary Chalk (Akel & Mass, 2006) engaged conventions from both genres in order to uncover, perhaps facetiously, why 50% of teachers quit within the first three years.

Chalk, whose storyline follows three teachers and an administrator over the course of a school year, employs the postmodern strategies of the mockumentary to challenge the notion that teachers in the cinematic world quit, are fired, or persevere in the profession because of one, or a series of, life-changing event(s). Just as postmodern curriculum theory tries to dislodge ← 29 | 30 → education’s adherence to modernist teaching strategies (such as the tendency for desks to be arranged in rows facing the teacher, for teachers to deliver only whole-group lectures, or for strict implementation of a mandated curriculum), a mockumentary relies on postmodern cinematic strategies, such as the...

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