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Screen Lessons

What We Have Learned from Teachers on Television and in the Movies


Edited By Mary M. Dalton and Laura R. Linder

This unprecedented volume includes 30 essays by teachers and students about the teacher characters who have inspired them. Drawing on film and television texts, the authors explore screen lessons from a variety of perspectives. Arranged in topical categories, the contributors examine the "good" teacher; the "bad" teacher; gender, sexuality, and teaching; race and ethnicity in the classroom; and lessons on social class. From such familiar texts as the Harry Potter series and School of Rock to classics like Blackboard Jungle and Golden Girls to unexpected narratives such as the Van Halen music video "Hot for Teacher" and Linda Ellerbee’s Nick News, the essays are both provocative and instructive.

Courses that could use this book include Education and Popular Culture, Cultural Foundations, Popular Culture Studies, other media studies and television genre classes.

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Chapter Twenty-Five: Blackboard Jungle: Poisoning the American Dream (Steve Benton)


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Blackboard Jungle

Poisoning the American Dream


Blackboard Jungle (1955) offers its audiences hope that a determined educator can make a meaningful difference in the lives of working-class students in a rough, multi-ethnic high school. It is far from the only film to do so. But, it was the first popular Hollywood film to land a knockout punch with this storyline, which has made an indelible imprint on teacher movies over the last half-century and more. As entertainment, the drama surrounding English teacher Richard Dadier (Glenn Ford) pushes a lot of emotional buttons. It wouldn’t have made such an impression on the popular imagination if it hadn’t. But, the lessons Blackboard Jungle teaches about social class and the American high school have always been controversial. Sixty years after its release, I would go so far as to say that they have proved poisonous, though for different reasons than those articulated by some of its earliest critics.

When Blackboard Jungle was selected as the U.S. entry in the Venice Film Festival in the summer of 1955, the U.S. ambassador to Italy, Clare Booth Luce, announced that she would not attend the festival screening in protest (Pryor 9). The anti-Communist Luce felt that the film was anti-American propaganda, a view shared by her husband, Time magazine publisher Henry Luce. Two weeks after Luce staged her protest, Time published an unsigned editorial condemning the film’s...

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