There’s a tired joke about educators (which was originally relayed to me by a middle school physical education teacher): “Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach P.E.” At the very most, the quip will elicit a smirk, but this summer a movie took the line and ran, and it looks like critics aren’t the only ones who found fault with the result. The Root says Bad Teacher, starring Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake, is the latest example of media laying the blame of America’s failing public education on teachers.
The movie follows Cameron Diaz’s hard-drinking, pot-smoking, Ms. Halsey as she works to boost her student’s test scores, not for their benefit, but as part of her quest to get a state-sponsored boob job. See, she wants to marry a rich man, and rich men like big boobs. So she needs the the bonus promised to the teacher with the highest scoring class to buy them. Or something. It’s not really important. What is, according to cultural historian Sylvie Laurent, is that at a time when America’s public schools face severe institutional complications, Bad Teacher chuckles and points the finger at educators.
While Bad Teacher isn’t, and shouldn’t be, solely responsible for uncovering the problems that plague our public schools, its oversimplification of what’s wrong with education is doesn’t give popular culture enough credit. Sure, its just a movie, but media has the potential to both detail and dictate the shape of society at large. The film didn’t have to do anything, but in a time where each day reminds us how much help America’s educational system needs, it could have. As Laurent points out, “none of the troublesome words (merit pay, tenure, union, layoffs, charter and so on) are heard. And yet the movie is heavy on message: Teachers are losers. All of them.”