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Taking ‘Bad Teacher’ to School

Posted on Jun 26, 2011

Cameron Diaz goes to school in “Bad Teacher.”

By Marcia Alesan Dawkins

Let’s be honest. Teachers don’t get into the profession for the money. Nowadays they don’t get into the profession for respect either. So why do they do it? Or, as it was put to Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) in “Bad Teacher”: “What has to go so horribly wrong in life that you end up educating middle school children?”

Halsey’s answer: “It’s the only thing I’m good at.” Not to mention “the shorter hours, summers off and no accountability.” 

Those answers, and many other ridiculous stereotypes about teaching and teachers, are exactly why I had no intentions of seeing the film—a comedy about a materialistic, foulmouthed, drug-using junior high teacher who gets dumped by her rich fiancé, tries to woo her next meal ticket and raise enough money to get a boob job. But I did see it. And I saw it with two good teachers from New York City. Here’s how we graded it.

An “A” for rethinking what makes a teacher bad: Halsey isn’t a bad teacher because “she doesn’t give an F.” She’s bad because she’s unappreciated, underpaid, unwilling to deal with her personal issues and sees no results from the little effort she does put forth in the classroom. Take the first day of school; she’s so hung over that she shows her class movies of good teachers from the 1980s and ’90s. Movies such as “Stand and Deliver,” “Lean on Me,” “Dangerous Minds” and even “Scream.” While Halsey starts out as the polar opposite of the passionate educators in most of these films, she shares many of their strengths. She’s frank, smart, organized, in control, daring, determined, meticulous, persuasive and oddly charming. And, like Principal Himbry (Henry Winkler) in “Scream,” she’s also under attack.

A “C” for depicting teachers’ cheating and reflecting current events. The movie earns points by riffing on the scandalous Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus, which saw a dramatic increase in standardized test scores during Michelle Rhee’s tenure. In “Bad Teacher,” Halsey earns the $5,700 “good teacher bonus” by tricking a state administrator and getting an advanced copy of the test. What goes unmentioned is that such chicanery is symptomatic of today’s test-based educational system. The movie also loses points for ignoring education professor Diane Ravitch’s advice: that “when too much time is invested in test preparation, students learn test-taking skills, not content or thinking” and teachers do not really flex their teaching muscles. Maybe that’s why none of the educators in this film are able to exercise much physical or emotional strength outside of the classroom either.

An “F” for only hinting at one of education’s fatal flaws: the fear of failure. When the seventh-graders fail a test on “To Kill a Mockingbird” (considered a bad book and banned from schools in its day), Halsey slams the book down on her desk, throws the failed tests in the air and yells, “You’re not working hard enough! I need results!” Later, she punishes them corporally by way of dodgeball when they get answers wrong. Finally, she levels with one of her more sensitive and socially awkward male students, telling him that his “window just isn’t now. It’ll come in college.”

These unconventional tactics aren’t just for laughs. They teach students that learning isn’t always “fun-tastic” and that discomfort caused by present failure does not prevent future success. By the end of the film, the bad teacher takes her own advice and finds her niche in education. In so doing the movie merely whispers what we wish it would’ve shouted: Experience counts! Those we label “bad teachers” today might end up good educators tomorrow. 

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By Cinesnatch, October 29, 2011 at 7:43 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

With all due respect to Dawkins, she should not have written this article as a “film
review.”  This movie doesn’t operate in the realm of realism.  And there is not
reason to treat it as such.  It’s about a person with very little integrity who is in the
wrong line of work and resourcefully uses her position in the best way she can to
manipulate her way into a higher standard of living.  We laugh because it’s
Cameron Diaz, she plays to her strengths and through a series of contrivances,
“redeems” herself in the end. 

And it’s funny.  But, comedy is subjective.

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By Baby Verkouden, September 4, 2011 at 2:22 am Link to this comment

This movie is easy to watch. But i expected a really bad teacher. She’s bad but not
worse enough. Cameron Diaz played a good role as always and she looks as pretty
as always! wink

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By TC, July 8, 2011 at 9:17 pm Link to this comment

Here’s your satire, John Q: Youthtopia.

Who will film it?

“A terrible book. Irresponsible.”
-Barry Obay
“This book should be banned.”
-Dale Servile
“No one under 21 should be allowed to read this
-Marsha Sireton
“No reputable publisher should go anywhere near it.”
-Amanda Thority
“Ban it. Burn it. Bury it.”
-Luke Baas
High school like you’ve never seen it.
High school like you’ve always known it.
Welcome to friendly Rockview Terminal!
This parent handbook overviews the high quality
educational atmosphere of Rockview
Terminal. Here in lovely Rockview we never forget
that our children are our greatest
resource, and we do everything in our power to make
sure that our children are mentally
cleansed, as thoroughly and as efficiently as
Patriotica, electronica, Americonica – YouthTopia.

Ever since the Grand Obliteration – that difficult
but necessary moment in our country’s
history immediately following the Great Repression –
Rockview Terminal has proudly
adopted as mascot an actual decommissioned M-1
Intercontinental Ballistic Missile!
With multiple defused warheads this missile mounted
in gleaming grandeur above the
arched main entrance of our Terminal for the past
several generations has nobly guarded
our Terminal all throughout the IED’s myriad
interventions in the many misguided third
world nations.
Thus each morning, before the loyal-consumers-in-
training recite the Flag Pledge, the
Twenty Commandments, the Twelve Golden Pillars of
Incorporated Success, and the
Official Terminal Cheer, everyone is viscerally
reminded of the awesome brute force
by which this country has supplied the material needs
for all society, or at least for those
best situated and most properly insured.
Just as we must never forget the urgent material
needs of our loyal-consumers-intraining, the lcit
must realize how impossibly difficult it is even in a
country as mindblowingly, stupendously rich as this
one to ensure that everyone gets a speck of creature
comfort at a reasonable price of time, labor, credit,
sweat, blood and tears.
Not all loyal consumers are lucky enough or even
entitled to live as long and with as
much health as they would like, and in a fortified
hut of their own, but this is the pricethat must be
paid by the loyal consumers of any happy and secure
nation for the country
itself to be great.
And to think, our noble mascot the M-1
Intercontinental Ballistic Missile has made so
much of this greatness possible through the awesome
glories of War! War! War!

Rockview Terminal is absolutely delighted by its
friendly mascot, the M-1
Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.
A picture of this missile appears on the screen
savers of all lcit computers and is posted
on Rockview Terminal’s home page and in glass frames
all around the walls of the
Terminal – right next to the flag.
We could not be happier even if we had a full-size B-
1 Bomber perched on top of the
On the other hand, we would pay dearly to acquire
such a weapon, if only for show.
We gaze longingly toward the day when a suitable
missile might come up for sale at a
nearby garage sale.

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By Lafayette, July 1, 2011 at 11:05 pm Link to this comment

MAD: The movie also loses points for ignoring education professor Diane Ravitch’s advice: that “when too much time is invested in test preparation, students learn test-taking skills, not content or thinking” and teachers do not really flex their teaching muscles. Maybe that’s why none of the educators in this film are able to exercise much physical or emotional strength outside of the classroom either.

I suspect, rather, that the challenge is the fact that our children are tempted and seduced by other temptations that takes their minds off school-work and therefore learning.

The answer to that is more discipline in the schooling and less “be all ya wannabe!” exhortation. Education is not selling washing-powder. It is a tough, hard slog. Schooled children need good nutrition, sufficient sleep, a solid family life and energy-expenditure (in sports).

There is also the serious matter of the Education Unions that consistently refuse to accept that teachers be tested on their abilities. A teacher obtains a diploma, possibly a state certification and off they go for the rest of their lives into teaching. There is little feedback as to how well they are performing their jobs - which would not be the case in commerce or industry.

Their talent for teaching or their competence is rarely if ever tested - and the consequence shows in the test-results. The unions should be giving more attention to results rather than protecting their members from pedagogical incompetence.

As responsible parents we pay for results and expect them.

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By Lafayette, July 1, 2011 at 10:52 pm Link to this comment


MAD: hat goes unmentioned is that such chicanery is symptomatic of today’s test-based educational system.

And what, pray tell, should take the place of “test-based education”? They should get their diplomas based upon their pearly smile? Or maybe we should ask for a standardized international test for Texting or Video Games where they are “brilliant”?

Ridiculous, of course. And the tests show just how mediocre American children are when compared to other nations. See here, the results of the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) as regards problem solving.

If our children cannot solve problems - meaning they do not know how to access information, assimilate it and then decide an action - then how are they fit to work in commerce or industry? The mediocre test results show that they “are not getting it”. Whether the matter is reading/writing, science or maths as the other PISA scores also show.

Also, look at the results of Canada in the PISA scores linked above. What is that the Canadians are doing that we cannot seem to achieve? Anyone bothering to go up there and ask?


We are not going to be solving this seemingly perennial challenge if we do not look elsewhere. Enough of the navel-gazing ...

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By Awi, July 1, 2011 at 8:41 pm Link to this comment

The American People are marching toward the EXIT.  No amount of reason will stop them.  They are now being stalked by death, the same death they imposed upon 112,000,000 Amerindians.  America’s big mistake is believing that life is linear not circular.  They still don’t get it!  Some people say you can’t cure stupid, but death cures it.

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By KP, July 1, 2011 at 8:23 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Prisoner—you make a good point. I understand why professionals are upset by the movie. But we should resist falling prey to this. Imagine how an attorney reacts to “The Lincoln Lawyer” or a physician to repeated bad reviews in movies. The word doctor means teacher. The fact that there are many types of teachers or mentors in movies is well documneted.

The recent documentary “Waiting For Superman” was not complimentary to teachers unions. That is more significant then the movie “Bad Teacher” which is an attempt at humor and some ‘moral to the story’.

Lets not forget “Stand and Deliver”.

That was cool grin

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By The Prisoner, June 28, 2011 at 4:25 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In California, schools are facing cuts yet again.  California K-12 educate 1 out of every 7 American students.  And the only movie to come out about a teacher in a couple of years features (at least in the trailer) a hungover, manic, throwing a dodgeball at a young boy’s crotch (if it had been a young girl, parents would be screaming bloody murder)twit, who is the most untalented actress in recent memory.  And you give this movie an A?  You are as moronic as Cameron Diaz. I am married to an educator, and the lack of respect for teachers is appalling.  I would say see you in hell, but we’re already there.

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By KP, June 28, 2011 at 3:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“teachers are a minority in the US - a group few know personally and even less understood.”

Well said, Hulk. That helps describe why I probably saw my teachers differently then the way I saw my children’s teachers. After one of my girls developed cancer I could see how her teachers were moved. One teacher, who was not assigned to her, voluntarily came to our home as she underwent chemo and tutored her. That man is a mentor-teacher. He mentored me without even trying on those visits.

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By KP, June 28, 2011 at 3:12 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This discussion has made me think about my own children and their teachers; particularly their elementary and middle school teachers. As a parent I would give my children’s teachers significantly higher marks than I gave my own. Why? Probably because I sat with each of them in parent teacher conferences and got to know them a bit. I knew what they were trying to accomplish, saw them struggle for supplies and even come out of pocket to make their classrooms better places to learn. And, I could see that (as Mformike said) they cared about the kids in their rooms. I stand by what I originally said about my teachers (particularly high school and university) but concede I it was formed with a different perspective than I have about my children’s teachers.

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By Hulk2008, June 28, 2011 at 3:06 pm Link to this comment

I saw this film with my wife (32 year veteran teacher) because we presumed correctly it was made for comedy rather than accuracy or social commentary.  Actually, compared to “Bad Santa” it was fairly fluffy material - could have been more offensive.
The very fact so many are able to type and read and spell in this blog proves teachers must be geting the basics across to people who do care to participate in education.  The statement above “... Most teachers don’t really value education, and wouldn’t consider educating their own children early….” proves that teachers are a minority in the US - a group few know personally and even less understood.  Our own kids could read, write, and do basic math well before nursery school - because we do care. 

Question really is:  How do we educate kids who don’t care, especially since their parents don’t really care?

Anybody fo herding earthworms as a profession?

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By KP, June 28, 2011 at 2:47 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hi kerryrose – no offense intended. I understand your point but I don’t think it is necessarily a valid one. Both of my parents were teachers by trade. I think it is a noble profession. One taught at a public high school before moving to university and one taught at a private high school. Both were extraordinary educators as well as inspiring mentors. I still hear from some of their students.  One taught English and physical education and one history; they made sure we respected our teacher’s authority and that we produced in the classroom. Perhaps the standard my parents set for my brothers and sister colors my experience.

I didn’t say my teachers were poor. I said they were less focused then I might have wanted and mostly uninspiring. That is my recollection. Average is average, not bad. I could have said “in all my years of school I only had four really bad teachers”. That is probably accurate as well.

The four great ones were a 3rd grade teacher, a 6th grade teacher, a physics and chemistry teacher in high school and a chemistry teacher in university. Chemistry was not my thing so I wasn’t predisposed to being inspired by the two chemistry teachers. Mostly, they made me want to learn and they made me feel personally responsible to them. I think they were passionate. That shows through! As well, the opposite is true.

My GPA is not germane but it was very strong. My wife was an equally strong student as are our children.

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By Kandeda Trefil, June 28, 2011 at 1:28 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

O wow!  You are so right…I just replace the word “obedience” with “conformity,” and compare the word “school” with “prison,” for that’s pretty much what it is.

Initially I got my kids out of school the day they were born.  My 3rd kid (I’d been experimenting, and had gotten better after the first 2) independently read her first word as soon as she was able to speak, age 1 and 1/2.  Most teachers don’t really value education, and wouldn’t consider educating their own children early.

Maybe it’s because they know in advance what the school system will do TO a kid who enters it already educated.  As you wrote, “The whole system is bunk.  Get your kids out of school.”  And so we would have, but we just didn’t have enough money to do it.

My biological kids loved the lessons I gave them.  But those lessons ruined them for school.

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By Mformike, June 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Many teachers will say they studied for and took the job because they want to “help kids.” For over twenty years as a public school teacher, I heard this reason more than any other. As I observed my colleagues over the years, it is a true statement. A fairly large swath of society is cognizant of a social reality and wish to improve it. I think it’s our genetic heritage.Administrators want to help kids, too, but on the whole they have been indoctrinated by the pr meisters of corporate America, the source of most of our sad delusions.

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By kerryrose, June 28, 2011 at 10:54 am Link to this comment


Perhaps you were an average student- not focused or inspired in new ideas?

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By Tom Dawe, June 28, 2011 at 6:20 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Statistically the C students in med school tend to make
the best all around doctors.  Compassionate,
empathetic, practical knowledge, good critical thinkers
and problem solvers etc etc…and oh humility.

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By kerryrose, June 28, 2011 at 5:07 am Link to this comment


It is crazy to believe even the most silly movies do not reflect the dominant cultural attitudes.

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By JohnQ1127, June 27, 2011 at 9:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Just to preface this statement I was a middle school/high school teacher for 6

Most movies about teachers are extremely formulaic and very unrealistic and
usually kind of naive and unimaginative.

The popular formula is to have a Maverick teacher who struggles at first yet
does something relatively simple yet completely unorthodox. He wins over the
kids, parents and the administration and accomplishes amazing things and is a
hero. i.e, To Sir with Love, School of Rock, Dangerous Minds etc.

In real life it doesn’t work that way.

1- The biggest fallacy in cop movies as well as teacher movies is the “Maverick”.
Maverick type of people are weeded out of the system before they even get
hired. And even if a “maverick” actually get’s a job, there’s an unbelievable
amount of pressure to conform to the norms of the school. And if you can’t
conform to whatever silly or illogical rule is implemented, then you will be gone
rather quickly.

2- Teaching is a very stressful and difficult job that is somehow regarded as
easy in the U.S. If teaching was as simple as doing an unorthodox trick then
everybody would do it.

3- Schools are terrified of parents and law suits. Try and do something un-
orthodox without the parents consent and see how far you get.

4- For the most part Parents/Kids run the schools. On the one hand you have
to be Tough but not too tough or you will get parents calling the school. You
can’t be too Easy or parents will complain as well. You basically have to get
their kids into Harvard without making things too hard or giving them too much
home work.

5- Schools are driven by test scores. You have to teach material that will be in
Standardized tests. You can’t go off on your own tangent, you have to stick with
what are called “Core Curriculum Standards” or what will appear on the tests.

6- People would be amazed at what gets covered up inside the schools that
never reaches the public.

And even after all that, even if you do a good job and work really hard, most
people in your community will consider you a lazy person who basically has a
part-time easy job who is extremely over paid.

Teachers/School should be ripe for Satire and yet it doesn’t seem like that many
good satirical black comedy school type movies are made.

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By KP, June 27, 2011 at 9:21 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Recently, I asked me wife how many teachers she could recount as being focused and or inspiring to her education K-12, plus four years of university. She answered three. I asked myself the same question. K-12, four years of university and another four years of post graduate study. My answer was four. I would answer about the same when asked about physicians and politicians. I know average is acceptable; but it is not desired need serious help.

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By Charlotte Lipson, June 27, 2011 at 2:03 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The movie is VERY funny, very raunchy.  It’s crazy to interpret it seriously as a commentary on public education.

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By Valatius, June 27, 2011 at 1:47 pm Link to this comment

Good article on a movie I won’t plan to see. As to the question of why people still become teachers, I think that the answer is in the real joy that this profession can provide. There’s really nothing that can beat it when things are going right. But to attain this kind of satisfaction, teachers need not only good principals and a supportive school environment but a high degree of what can only be called academic freedom, even in the primary grades. When teachers are given scripted “lessons” and compelled to use mass-produced tests, they cannot use their own judgment and creativity to meet the real needs of children whom they (and not the test-makers or the school boards) know best.

A decent salary and benefits, while not a primary motivator for good teachers, are essential so that teachers can actually concentrate on their profession and not be reduced to working nights and weekends at Walmart or Taco Bell.

None of this is possible without a strong teachers union.

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By MeHere, June 27, 2011 at 9:44 am Link to this comment

Thanks for the review on education—this is not a film review.

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By kerryrose, June 27, 2011 at 7:23 am Link to this comment

unconventional ideas

Your last post was not an ‘unconventional idea’ but a bigoted, and uninformed or analyzed idea.

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By kerryrose, June 27, 2011 at 7:20 am Link to this comment

Doesn’t anyone think it’s synchronistic that Hollywood makes a movie about a ‘bad’ teacher who only cares about ‘summer vacation’ during the time of the biggest battle that teachers face?

If you haven’t noticed the movie ‘Superman’ demonized teachers and teacher’s unions.  The battles for teacher’s in Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey and around the country are pretty much lost.  The battles to stop massive cuts to public education around the country are pretty much lost.

I haven’t and won’t see this movie, but it seems only a validation to the demise of public schools and certified professional teachers.

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By Unconventionalideas, June 27, 2011 at 4:55 am Link to this comment

My long observation is that across the board, the weakest students tend to be education majors.

Enough said.

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By christian96, June 27, 2011 at 12:08 am Link to this comment

I haven’t seen the movie but have seen the commerical on television.  When I saw the commerical I ask myself, “What is this movie teaching children?”
I’ll see it and find out.  The commerical did somewhat bias my thoughts before I see the movie.
Adambarr in the previous comment wrote, “Cameron
Diaz is supter hot.” I guess “super hot” is what
sells movies for the ignorant idiot producers in
Hollywood.  I wonder how many people would have
attended the movie if the teacher was ugly and weighed 200 pounds?  I spent my entire career in
education.  There are many ugly 200 pound teachers
in classrooms. On the other hand there are many hot
foxes teaching in classrooms.  Like Adambarr I gave
more attention to the hot foxes.

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By Yes I Am Human, June 26, 2011 at 10:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Interesting review, considering that one look at that photo is enough to stop
me from seeing the movie.  Whether it’s about women teachers, doctors,
lawyers, parents, housewives, job seekers, etc.

Less sex symbols, more real people in a non-sexualized, real way.  More
actresses with blemishes and imperfect teeth, some tire around the middle,
wearing practical shoes that were hell to find, and hell to pay for with the rest
of the bills.

I’m also tired of hearing about people who are “frank, smart, organized, in
control, daring, determined, meticulous, persuasive and oddly charming” and
look and act like bimbos.

Yeah I know it’s comedy and maybe you can teach bimbos that they have brains

But you didn’t convince this reader to spend 10 bucks at a matinee.  Or even a
DVD rental and a precious evening at home, when it’s soon issued ..

Now what would be real interesting, funny, and most of all, worth my money
and valuable time, is what a director like John Waters or Fellini could do with
this subject.

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By jack kane, June 26, 2011 at 7:44 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The idea of “good teachers”, like the idea of “good TV”, misses the point. In both cases the medium itself is destructive beyond reform.

In regard to television, look at the “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television” book. The basic idea is that television is implicitly vile. Why? To get a television running, you need large capital investment. YouTube may give you the illusion that TV can be free source - but can YouTube give you, say, “Game of Thrones”? No. So invariably the moneyed (ruling?) class will own TV and use it for its own purposes. Next, because it is hard to watch more than 6-7 hours of TV per day, any programs must be necessarily brief. So you can’t examine topics in depth. Worse yet, TV is an image based medium. This means that certain important topics are impossible to translate to TV. Then there is the problem with images - they literally invade your mind, displacing your own images.
I’m sure you guys get the picture.

What about school? Take a bunch of kids and lock them up in a small space. Have them listen to an authority figure for an hour. Then ring the bell and have the kids run to another classroom. Literally run - in the Canadian High School that “educated” me, the breaks were 7 minutes long and the building was large. The halls were packed. To be on time (and save yourself a scolding) you had to jostle your way through a herd of bored, angry kids. It was like a zoo.

To top it off give the kids multiple choice tests. Doing well on a multiple choice tests does NOT mean that you know anything. It simply means that you can do well on multiple choice tests. Facetious, but, as Ferris Bueller observed, so is school. The results have been confirmed by academic “research”. (I also hasten to inform you that researchers recently proved that natural breastmilk is better for babies than baby formula. Chalk one more for science.)
Throw in a strong state government into the picture and you’ve outdone Van Gogh in grotesqueness.

What could a system like the one described above produce? Obviously it will produce obedient kids. The ring-bells are straight out of Pavlov. The system will produce dumb kids capable only of following minute orders. (I notice the following warnings on streets nowadays: “Look both ways before you cross!” I’m waiting for the “Breathe in. Breathe out.” sign.)
The system will produce good soldiers and good factory workers - which is why it came into being in the 19th century, along with the industrial revolution and industrial warfare.

Given such a system, you get the same results no matter how “good” (By what measurement? Multiple choice test results?) your teachers are. Like they say, when you have a hammer, every thing looks like a nail.

But it gets better! Suppose you have a ruling class. Its members will adore the status quo. They rule, so they direct the schools. Instilling obedience to authority in the pupils is good, but suppose the kids figure things out. Can’t have that.
What do we do in this case? We turn the students into imbeciles. This is exactly what has happened in America in the last century. John Taylor Gatto, Charlotte Iserbytt and others explain the details of the dumbing-down in extensive and exquisite detail. Let me give you two specific examples:
The advantage of the alphabet over the pictorial sign is that the alphabet is phonetic. The best way to reach kids to read is to teach them phonetics. And yet American schools teach reading through the “Dick&Jane;” technique, which relies on memorization. The result? Mass illiteracy. Don’t believe me? Look into the subject.
Then there is mathematics. Mathematics demands creativity. And yet in North America schools teach mathematics via memorization. So in North America people, amazingly enough, can’t add.
I’m not saying things are much better outside NA: my reading focused on America.

“Good” teachers won’t help. The whole system is bunk. Get your kids out of school.

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By adambarr, June 26, 2011 at 5:55 pm Link to this comment

Thanks for the review - have been planning on seeing this heard it was great, plus Cameron Diaz is super hot wink

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