21 July 2020

Summer School

This blog entry about the movie SUMMER SCHOOL (1987) is the fourth of four entries discussing movies about school, teachers, and education.

In the comedy film SUMMER SCHOOL Freddy Shoop (Mark Harmon) is a physical education (P.E.) teacher who must teach summer school when another teacher, Mr. Dearadorian (played by the film’s director Carl Reiner), at the fictional Oceanfront High School wins the lottery and quits at the last minute. Mr. Shoop is in the parking lot literally putting a suitcase in his car for a trip to Hawaii when Vice Principal Phil Gillis (Robin Thomas) approaches him about teaching remedial English for summer school. Amusingly his girlfriend, Kim (Amy Stock), goes to Hawaii without him instead of postponing the vacation until summer school ends.

SUMMER SCHOOL presents some serious issues in a humorous manner. On the first day of class it becomes apparent that the reluctant Mr. Shoop should not be teaching a group of underachieving students. They are easily distracted and one of the students is dyslexic. But reality sinks in when Vice Principal Gillis reminds Mr. Shoop he is up for tenure and can lose his job. Most jobs have a probation period. For teachers in California the probation period is two school years of satisfactory performance. On the first day of the third school year the teacher is tenured. It is difficult to fire a teacher who earns tenure.

Since Mr. Shoop is forced to teach, he realizes he does not know how to teach. He receives help from Robin Bishop (Kirstie Alley), a teacher who instructs an honors class. Today at many schools students can only attend summer school if they, like Mr. Shoop’s students, fail a course. This is due to budgetary reasons; however, in the 1980’s students were certainly able to attend summer school for enrichment.

The only way Mr. Shoop gets his students to study is by negotiating with them: Denise (Kelly Jo Minter) needs driving lessons so Mr. Shoop becomes her driving instructor. Rhonda (Shawnee Smith) is pregnant so Mr. Shoop becomes her Lamaze partner. Kevin (Patrick Labyorteaux) plays football so Mr. Shoop gives him lessons. Pam (Courtney Thorne-Smith) needs a place to live so Mr. Shoop lets her move in with him. Dave (Gary Riley) has a party at Mr. Shoop’s house with Mr. Shoop’s permission. Larry (Ken Olandt) sleeps in class so Mr. Shoop has a bed in the classroom. Chainsaw (Dean Cameron) gets to arrange a screening of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE in class.

Despite the wackiness, the students improve academically. SUMMER SCHOOL is a fun movie that serves as an escape because no school would allow much of what happens in the story. If you need to laugh SUMMER SCHOOL may be a good movie to put on your watchlist, even if you have seen it before.

17 July 2020

The Breakfast Club

This blog entry about the movie THE BREAKFAST CLUB (1985) is the third of four entries discussing movies about school, teachers, and education.

THE BREAKFAST CLUB is a comedy-drama film that showcases high school very well. The writer, producer, and director John Hughes chooses to focus on one non-school day with five students in a confined space: Saturday detention in the school library. The audience does not see regular school days and students sitting inside classrooms. Instead the focus is on how five students are affected by the high school experience.

The story takes place at fictional Shermer High School in Shermer, Illinois, which is supposed to be a suburb of Chicago. The suburban setting is apparent, as the cast is not racially diverse. It would be interesting to watch how the Saturday detention experience could differ in an urban setting or if Hughes had created one or two characters of color out of the five.

The five characters are Brian Johnson, the brain (Anthony Michael Hall); Allison Reynolds, the basket case (Ally Sheedy); John Bender, the criminal (Judd Nelson); Claire Standish, the princess (Molly Ringwald); and Andrew Clark, the athlete (Emilio Estevez). The character development is exemplary. Hughes does not stop at the stereotypes; he provides depth to each character.

The enduring themes of peer pressure and parent pressure are revealed as what the five characters have in common. On the surface they all seem so different, but it turns out teen angst does not discriminate. Today teenagers still struggle with these same concerns. Therefore, for many years teenagers will relate to THE BREAKFAST CLUB. They will even associate the displeasure of being disciplined by a school administrator like Assistant Principal Vernon (Paul Gleason) with their own experiences.

Consequently, the relatable themes are what make THE BREAKFAST CLUB the ultimate high school movie for its audience. Teenagers connect. School faculty and staff are made aware of what students are managing in addition to their studies and why they behave the way they do. Moreover, parents are given a realistic perspective of their teen’s life and admit to a keen understanding.

14 July 2020


This blog entry about the movie TEACHERS (1984) is the second of four entries discussing movies about school, teachers, and education.

TEACHERS is a comedy-drama film about John F. Kennedy High School, an urban school in Columbus, Ohio that is being sued by a recent graduate who claims he is unable to read or write, yet he received a diploma. JoBeth Williams plays Lisa Hammond, the lawyer in charge of taking depositions, and who also happens to be a graduate of John F. Kennedy High School. The film realistically displays the superintendent (Lee Grant) and school lawyer (Morgan Freeman) trying to avoid bad publicity from the lawsuit.

Nick Nolte plays Alex Jurel, a well-liked Social Studies teacher who serves as an example of teacher burn out. Alex, like most teachers, brings energy and optimism to the position. But after many years of working with unruly students and dealing with the demands of the administration, he becomes cynical. However, TEACHERS shows how a teacher like Jurel is able to reach students and how they trust him with personal issues they go through, such as when a student named Diane Warren (Laura Dern) becomes pregnant and confides in him. He also mentors a reticent student named Eddie Pilikian (Ralph Macchio).

John F. Kennedy High School has a few teachers who are peculiar characters. In one class students know to walk in, pick up a handout from the teacher’s desk, quietly go to their seats to complete the worksheets, and when the bell rings they get up, put the handout on the teacher’s desk and leave the classroom. During the entire class period, the teacher holds up a newspaper and falls asleep. Students sit with their backs to him and do not observe his slumber. One day unbeknown to everyone, the teacher dies. Even though he has expired, when the bell rings students get up, turn in the worksheets, and leave the classroom. A full day goes by before anyone notices the teacher is not sleeping, but dead. This scenario supports the point of the lawsuit the school is facing from the graduate who claims he attended the school but is illiterate. This teacher does not teach. Instead he gives students busy work.

On the other hand, Richard Mulligan plays Herbert Gower, a mental institution outpatient who wanders into someone’s home and answers the telephone. A school secretary mistakes him for a substitute teacher, so he goes to the school. He becomes students’ favorite U.S. History teacher because he dresses in period clothing and acts out historical scenes. It takes the school a while to realize he is not the correct substitute teacher. This is hilarious and, surprisingly, could probably happen.

The balance of comedy and drama in TEACHERS works well. The comedic situations help ease the audience for bearing with the serious lawsuit storyline. Overall, the film, which is set in the 1980’s, makes the valid point that schools should be reorganized. By the early 1990’s, state education standards were created in the United States, which provide teachers and schools with structured curricula guidelines. Now there are Common Core State Standards, which were launched in 2009.

12 July 2020

Lean on Me

This blog entry about the movie LEAN ON ME (1989) is the first of four entries discussing movies about school, teachers, and education. In addition to being a writer, I am a school administrator and teacher. When I first watched these films, I was not an educator, so my perspective of certain aspects in them has evolved.

LEAN ON ME is a biographical drama based on Joe Louis Clark who was a principal at Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey. Morgan Freeman plays the controversial disciplinarian. One of the unconventional methods he uses in the movie is putting chains and padlocks on all the doors to keep gangs and drug dealers out of the school. Eastside High School is in an urban community and, unfortunately, certain activities that take place outside the school are brought inside. Students, faculty, and staff are happy about the chains and padlocks on the doors, but a parent, Leonna Barrett (Lynne Thigpen), is distressed by the approach and that her son is expelled, so she resolves to get Mr. Clark fired.

The school also grapples with students receiving low scores on a basic skills test and is in danger of the state taking control of it, which is why school district superintendent Dr. Frank Napier (Robert Guillaume) suggested hiring Mr. Clark, a former teacher at Eastside High School. Since students realize Mr. Clark cares about their well-being and education, they are motivated to study, learn, and raise the school’s basic skills test scores. One student, Thomas Sams (Jermaine Hopkins) who is expelled because of drug use, even begs Mr. Clark to allow him to return to school.

LEAN ON ME shows what several schools throughout the United States struggle with, but not all of them are in urban areas. There are also rural and suburban schools that have issues with gangs and/or drugs and receive low scores on state exams. This becomes clear once one has worked in schools and the movie takes on a different meaning. Most viewers see Mr. Clark as an inspirational figure who makes a positive impact on a school. Educators recognize that, but also take away from the story that certain tactics may or may not work at their schools for administering student discipline and teaching academic standards for a state exam.

A similar movie to LEAN ON ME is the biographical made for television movie, THE GEORGE MCKENNA STORY (1986) starring Denzel Washington. For the video release the title is HARD LESSONS. The movie is based on McKenna, who was a principal at George Washington Preparatory High School in South Los Angeles, California.


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