Popular Culture Review Vol. 24, No. 2, Summer 2013 - Page 76

72 Populär Culture Review education seriously, so they have essentially the same plot structure as the others. But there is one significant difference: these films are intended to point up problems in Am erica’s schools, an intent that has motivated them from the beginning. But they go fiirther. Between 1955 and 1990, they begin to redefine just what a good English teacher is. The beginning o f this shift registers in the first two films about the challenges faced by high school English teachers, The Blackboard Jungle and Up the Down Staircase. Up the Down Staircase teils the story o f Sylvia Barrett, who also teaches in a New York City high school. This film seems to address the problem o f high school dropouts, and she, like Dadier, works to motivate her students, a generally amiable but unfocused group o f teens who have little interest in English d a ss and haven’t benefited much from their education so far. The teaching o f Dadier and Barrett seems to reflect the pedagogy o f their day, for they believe they can best help their students by improving their basic English language skills. Because their mission is traditional, their curricula are traditional; they focus on basic language proficiencies. Dadier tries to help his students leam correct usage, correct pronunciation, and understand the abbreviations in classified ads. On her first day o f dass, Miss Barrett intends to give a little inspirational speech on first impressions, and from that she hopes to “make a good case for diction, correct usage and self-expression.” As new teachers facing classrooms full o f under-achievers, they both face the same problem: getting the students interested enough in the lessons to improve their language competence, and the films focus on their struggles to engage students. Dadier is ultimately successful when, in a lesson intended to inspire his students to do their own thinking, he shows a cartoon Version o f Jack and the Beanstalk. Because they so often feel misunderstood, his students see the giant as also misunderstood and reinterpret the story to cast the giant as a sympathetic character and Jack as a criminal. The lesson excites his students, and he uses their interpretation to make a point about the dangers o f not thinking for themselves. As one cynical colleague notes, Dadier “got through” to them. Miss Barrett gets through to her students in a lesson on Charles Dickens’ A Tale o f Two Cities. In her introduction to the novel, Barrett triggers a spirited d a ss discussion when she gets the students to apply Dickens’s opening line, “It was the best o f times, it was the worst o f times,” to their own time, which they do in such a spirited way that a vice-principal bursts into the room and demands to know why she allowed her dass to behave in such an “unruly fashion” in front o f the