A blog about things we won't shut up about... and by things, we mean ideas and concepts that shake the very nature of our current heterosexist, classist, sexist, ableist, and racist society.
When Dunne, in Half Nelson, is giving his lesson about “the machine” students are aware that whiteness, the school, in prisons are opposing forces that oppress their communities. The students are quick to point out that Dunne is also part of “the machine” because he is white and a school staff member. Dunne accepts this notion after joking with the students but also informs that in many ways the students is also “the machine”.
In this scene, I argue that Dunne does a really good job demonstrating how to challenge and support and individual for personal growth. Sanford’s 1962 theory, challenge and support, argues that there must be a balance between both challenging and and supporting their students in order to further develop their own personal growth.
But also, Dunne looks silly code switching to appeal to his students…
I am a passionate teacher in urban education advocating for my struggling students. With an M.Ed and support from my school I still owe about $30,000 (and increasing) in government loans. I already knew going into the job, that I would not make that much money, but living from paycheck to paycheck is difficult as an educator. I do not live a glamorous life and do not yearn for one—but I do want the best for my students. At the end of the day, after being with these kids, who are so young yet go through so much, I grow more and more grateful despite my financial difficulties.
Sometimes I wonder if this is an example of microagressions…
To be fair… Challenge and support.
The “white savior complex” in film is the idea protagonists in feature films or television shows come to a community, that is racially different from their own, to help the community. The white savior complex is a way for the dominant group to feel as if they did something great for society by interfering with communities of color and providing their unwanted help.
I will note that usually the intentions of the protagonists are well intended but the impact silences or hides community members who are doing the work in their own communities. In the films, the protagonists are praised for the work they do in their urban schools but their help is unwanted. The films serve a purpose in reaffirming that despite this help is not desired, it will do these students good and therefore the teachers are good. The audience leaves assuming the impact of teachers with non-urban school experiences are better equipped to work with urban students than those who have been with those communities for longer.
In the case of the film Take the Lead, Duaine only gets involved in the school because he is compelled to help. It is implied that he is driven by the story given by Principle Jones that students in the detention class are “the school rejects”. Additionally, Principle Jones shares with Dulaine that student portraits on the wall are of individuals that have passed due to gang related violence. Dulaine gains confidence he can help the students by teaching them ballroom dancing. When Dulaine meets his students they are not enthusiastic to learn about ballroom dancing because it is the dance of “rich folks and slaveholders”. Ultimately, Dulaine gains the respect of his students by his machismo demeanor—he demonstrates the sexiness of ballroom dancing and explains the roles of each gender in the dance to appeal to all of the students. Additionally, class is flaunted as it is apparent that Dulaine has had access to nicer commodities than the students. His clothes are nice, his taste in art and music hold higher cultural capital, and he instructs a higher class clientele for a living.
Dulaine had good intentions for the students of the detention class. He wanted them to learn how to work together and become more discipline. In the end, he seemingly achieves those things, but the film leaves us hanging—we wonder if the lessons from Dulaine actually helped student success.
In Freedom Writers, Gruwell comes to Woodrow Wilson High as a new teacher. She is a young white woman who is motivated to help the students because her father was a Civil Rights Activist. Gruwell in the film, from time to time, literally grasps her pearls, which is a reminder that Gruwell is in foreign territory. The film reveals that she grew up in Newport Beach and she constantly reminded by her father, husband, and Mrs. Campbell that she is not safe at the school. Gruwell however rejects these concerns for safety as well as the concerns that these students are undeserving and cannot be made interested in the school. The film depicts Gruwell struggling to find a way to relate to students and to teach them effectively. But by the end of the film, she is begged by her students to continue to be her teacher throughout junior year.
This film does demonstrate that she had a hope that no other teacher or administrator of Woodrow Wilson High had for those students. In order to make this story successful, however, one must imply that the situation was so bad in the first place that it required an outsider’s help. Ultimately, Gruwell does not sympathize with her students. Instead, she she learns from their journals about their lives. This pulls out a reaction from the audience that justifies her help and cheers her on. Then the message of the film becomes about Gruwell’s hard work to fix her class of at risk students. For society, this implies that it is teachers of higher class, dominant identities, and exceptional sacrifice are the solution to problems in urban education.
This is not far from the truth. Epstein states that the teaching force is getting white and yet there is a greater need for multicultural education (2005). Teachers are not prepared how to handle the needs of students—more specifically the need for a role model of the same ethnicity. Although the films provided justification for white upper class teachers, it is generally noted that these teachers do more harm than good.
I don’t know, I used to love the movie Freedom Writers a few years ago. But it just came on TV and I realized it makes me uncomfortable now? The whole white teacher playing the sacrificial role, who gives up everything to be the savior of illiterate, involved-in-gangs and shootings, poc youth narrative is unsettling. I don’t know.
Take the Lead (2006)
Students are self-aware their status in the films, but they are not always supported claiming their identities and experiences. This is more so clear in the film Take the Lead. Students point out that this ballroom dancing is “the dance of rich folks and slaveholders”. Dulaine the counters this was saying that the some of the dances have ties to African roots. Another student calls out Dulaine and says that when people try to get approval of black people by it has ties to Africa but when those people are scared or angry that thing is African. For the most part Dulaine does not address this discrepancy.
Dulaine does not challenge the students assumption of their race being negative and by neglecting the claims he demonstrates compliance with the idea that African things are bad and things with African ties are for non-Africans people to enjoy. This further demonstrates the need for more training for teachers about identity. Students of all ages are creating their own meanings of self and need faculty that can facilitate identity development so students can see themselves being successful in their educational endeavors.