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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 8. “Are You Here to Tell a Story?”: An Analysis of One Reality Television Show about Teaching


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An Analysis of One Reality Television Show about Teaching

On October 1, 2010, a short-lived reality television series featuring a celebrity teaching a tenth grade English class in a public high school premiered on the cable channel Arts & Entertainment (A&E). That celebrity teacher was Tony Danza, best known for his roles in the sitcoms Taxi and Who’s the Boss? A few months before the show Teach: Tony Danza (Greif & Reed, 2010) aired, a promotional advertisement ran on A&E. The promo opens with a first-person camera shot of someone walking down a school hallway and entering a classroom. As the students look up to see who has entered their classroom, Danza speaks in a voiceover: “Everybody gets nervous on their first day of school, and I’m no different. It’s hard being the good guy. You know, where I come from I’m pretty popular, but that’s not going to help me here.” The camera then focuses on Danza, dressed in a button down shirt with a tie, standing behind a desk in front of a chalkboard. Some of the students are smiling, while others look incredulous. As he announces, “I’m Mr. Danza. I’m your English teacher,” the words “It’s not a role, it’s reality” appear on the screen. For the first time, a reality television show was about to demonstrate to America what was happening in one of its...

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