Popular Culture Review Vol. 24, No. 2, Summer 2013 - Page 83

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly 79 “I don’t have the budget to buy new books every year,” she says. Meanwhile, the books sit on storeroom shelves. Inadequate funding o f education’s mission is a legitimate cause for concem, but Campbell’s complaint about the budget loses much o f its force when made by a teacher who seems to care more about books than students. Another colleague o f Gruell’s, Mr. Gelford, objects to the problems the school is having, which he believes are the result o f mandatory busing. A high school that was once among the best in the state is now having all kinds o f problems, he complains. This kind o f disruption also seems a legitimate concem if the problems are not adequately addressed in a timely and effective manner. But his lack o f concem for students whose need for education is the most desperate— he sees no point in educating them as they will soon be in jail anyway— makes his complaints about busing seem stupid, selfish, and ill-natured. The problem with these films is pointed up by Steven R. Thomsen, who has plausibly argued that the constant exposure to mass media messages about teachers and teaching, negative and positive, contributes to or reinforces “what people believe is actually true regarding teachers and the profession,” however un-realistic (23). W hat these films are encouraging audiences to believe is that the real reason American schools are failing is not because politicians are setting the education system’s objectives and priorities, not because schools are inadequately funded, not because teachers are poorly trained, but because the schools lack selfless teachers who, like the teachers in these films, don’t let family responsibilities, bills, or teaching circumstances impinge on their Professional lives. Extraordinary teachers who care enough, audiences are led to believe, can make the obstacles to leaming created by poverty, dysfunctional families, Street influences, and the effects of bad teaching simply disappear. If we want to improve our schools, these films argue convincingly, we need to get more teachers like Rago, Shoop, Johnson and Gmell into the classrooms. And this argument has entered the public discourse on education. Arne Duncan, our Secretary o f Education, reportedly told reporter Andrea Mitchell that he thought spending billions to reduce d ass size was a bad idea, given that many countries with high education achievement also have large classes. “The best thing you can do,” he reportedly said, “is get children in front o f an extraordinary teacher” (Herman). Public school teachers in Chicago recently went on strike to get wage increases that will keep pace with increases in the cost o f living and an adequate peer evaluation program, a legitimate concem in an age