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The Hollywood Curriculum

Teachers in the Movies – Third Revised Edition


Mary M. Dalton

The third edition of this book analyzes over 165 films distributed throughout the United States over the last 80 years to construct a theory of curriculum in the movies that is grounded in cultural studies and critical pedagogy. The portrayal of teachers in popular motion pictures is based on individual efforts rather than collective action and relies on codes established by stock characters and predictable plots, which precludes meaningful struggle. These conventions ensure the ultimate outcome of the screen narratives and almost always leave the educational institutions – which represent the larger status quo – intact and dominant. To interrogate "the Hollywood curriculum" is to ask what it means as a culture to be responsive to films at both social and personal levels and to engage these films as both entertaining and potentially transforming.

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Chapter 1: Introduction


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It seems as though I have always been interested in popular culture, particularly television and the movies. Increasingly, what originated as a personal interest in the aesthetic dimensions of these particular mediums has become more centrally situated in theories linking mass culture and political struggle under the rubric of cultural studies. The literature of cultural studies has emerged with amazing rapidity. One unifying thread running through much of this research is the idea that scholars writing from this perspective, using their own diverse methodologies, openly state their point of view and take the further step of directly advocating change.1 It is in this context that I began to think about the way popular culture constructs its own curriculum in the movies through the on-screen relationship between teacher and student. The social curriculum of Hollywood implicit in popular films is based on individual rather than collective action and relies on that carefully plotted action rather than meaningful struggle to ensure the ultimate outcome, leaving educational institutions, which represent the larger cultural status quo, intact and in power.

It is my plan here to use that research, in concert with a discussion of Dwayne Huebner’s five frameworks for valuing curriculum, other critical lenses, and my own interpretations of a number of films, primarily commercial movies, as the basis for a discussion of the meaning of popular culture and its importance in ← 1 | 2 → a democratic vision for education. Essentially, I will...

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