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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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Preface to the Fourth Edition


Looking at popular representations of teachers in the movies and linking the depictions to curriculum theory and critical theory was a natural project for me. With an academic background in media studies and a professional background in television and film before I started my doctoral program in cultural studies and education, this research provided a way for me to integrate my love of media, politics, and education. Fortunately, my dissertation committee at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro agreed and provided valuable guidance for the project that ultimately became the first edition of this book over 20 years ago and the foundation for other articles, chapters, lectures, and books. In addition to this one, I co-authored a book with Laura R. Linder in 2008, Teacher TV: Sixty Years of Teachers on Television, and Laura and I co-edited a new anthology this year, Screen Lessons: What We Have Learned from Teachers on Television and in the Movies.

After three editions (1995, 2007, and 2010) it is time to make some additions and some adjustments to The Hollywood Curriculum: Teachers in the Movies, and I find in the process that there are both surprises and disappointments in the current representation of educators in popular culture. First, while I’m pleased by some of the strong revisionist films (like Half Nelson, 2006, and Detachment, 2011) and complex and compelling television series (like the fourth season of The Wire, 2006, and, for its depiction of an administrator, ← ix | x → the...

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