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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 9. “Make It Work”: Incorporating Reality Television into the Classroom


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Incorporating Reality Television into the Classroom

At the end of each spring semester, my preservice teachers are finishing their student teaching internships and are anxious for practical lessons that will help prepare them for their first teaching jobs. Given their desire, I took some time several years ago to construct a lesson I thought they might find useful. I asked them to envision what materials they felt they would need to outfit their new classrooms. How would they collect and store student work? Did they have a favorite type of pen they liked to use while grading? I asked students to put together a shopping list, complete with prices, and bring it to class. My plan was to discuss the high cost of supplies and the minimal budget their schools might give them to set up their classrooms. A lesson I thought would be relevant and engaging soon became tedious as each student rattled off a long list with prices. It was difficult for us to picture some of the supplies students referenced without actually having a photo, and we often spent time searching for images of them on the classroom computer. I was ready to drop the lesson altogether until I was inspired by reality television to make over my lesson.

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