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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 2: The Hollywood Model: Who Is the Good Teacher?


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Who Is the Good Teacher?


In the process of considering over 230 films with teachers as either primary or important secondary characters, it quickly became evident to me that Hollywood dichotomizes teachers and teaching into the “good” and the “bad.” In the case of good teachers, these characters are almost always written to conform to a pat standard I have chosen to label The Hollywood Model. In roughly half of the films I have watched, the teacher is a main character that is presented as a good force in the movies, painted against a backdrop of institutional and societal woe, and positioned as markedly different from most of the other teachers and virtually all of the administrators in their respective films. While there are differences and distinctions among them, I think these characters have important, even defining, similarities that create an identifiable pattern of representation across time.

Other people have written about these Hollywood teachers from different perspectives. In an article titled “Teacher in the Movies,” Rob Edelman looks at teachers as they have been negatively stereotyped in some movies and characterized as positive role models in others. He sees “idealized” educators portrayed in two types of films: “… sentimental valentines to the ← 21 | 22 → careers of single-mindedly devoted teachers, anonymous human beings who over the years touch the lives of thousands; and [films about] instructors in tough, urban schools whose colleagues are...

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