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Students who rock!

High school movies can teach us a thing or two about education; our young writer Claire Fair investigates some of the films and the lessons

Endless partying, close associations between kids based on their social circles and race and a little action on sports are often highlighted in high school movies. A student will fail to hand in their homework on time, and they will still get extra time allocated to finish it for some reason instead of being failed. Or even better, they are straight-A’s despite partying every single day. Is that the reality of education?

Well, not entirely. Matter of fact, most students only get to party over the weekends since they are overburdened with assignments the rest of the week. Even though they can pay for research to have their papers done by pros with great writing skills, they still have to put in some work. That said, there are aspects of these movies and television series that do depict deep truths in the education system.

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Stereotypical personalities in every school

Speaking of writing assignments for a fee, some students do that for their colleagues, but this fact rarely makes it into a movie. When it does, they are shown to be ‘dorks’ and ‘nerds’ who would never score a place on the popular table during meals. They don’t get invited to parties either, so they would have to crash them. This is just one of many stereotypes that are commonly featured in teen movies about school.

Every movie and television show about the life of high school or college students seem to revolve around a misunderstood outsider friendzoned for a while (Gil Junger’s 10 Things I Hate About You, 1999) by a beautiful girl at school who is friends with the most popular girls in school but disapproves of them – such as in Heathers (Michael Lehmann, 1979; pictured at the top of this article) and Mean Girls (Mark Waters, 2004). Or quite the contrary – a nerdy girl who wins over the most popular guy with her big heart and suddenly becomes a beauty by simply taking off her glasses (Stewart Copeland, 1999). Any school in any movie seems to be a compilation of such stereotypical characters. But give it a second…will these movies stand a reality check?

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Speeches and musicals save the day

While Remember the Titans (Boaz Yakin, 2001) is based on a true story, there are fictional aspects that give it the appeal it has. A team is divided into racial lines, with the back players being denied opportunities simply based on their skin color until a black coach is appointed. The victory that follows harmonisation is appealing, but how many students would make a speech that wins them the respect of their mates?

High School Musical (Kenny Ortega, 2006) too highlights media vs reality in academics, perhaps in an even better way. Students hardly ever do anything else than have a good time and cater to their teenage wants. If a student were to join high school or college with such expectations, they would be totally dismayed and let down at what they would actually find to be the reality. Don’t forget the part-time jobs that students take as well as athletic contributions that some hope will land them scholarships. The reality is much harsher than what you see in film.

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Some rare extremes

Some inspirational movies about educators paint the picture of heroes who stop at nothing to bridge social lines. The Ron Clark Story (Randa Haines, 2006) and Music of the Heart (Wes Craven, 2000) bring us teachers that take their passion beyond class when with their students but in a professional way. They go out of their way to teach and impact the next generation. These characters go off the norm where educators are seen to be disgruntled and only keen to teach what is offered in a syllabus. While in reality, some of those teachers do exist – with a deep passion for knowledge – not many will go the lengths portrayed in some of these films.

If motivated educators are one thing, incompetent teachers are another, and we have seen quite a number of these in films. Characters in the American sitcom Those Who Can’t and British television series Teachers left most of us shocked at how clueless an educator could be. It’s unclear what the lesson here was for students who would be aspiring to become teachers in the future.

The bottom line, especially for those with no older siblings, is that high school is nothing like what they show on television. No one is as obsessed with class or popularity as in the case of the characters of American series Gossip Girl. Teachers are not overly inspired, and no one parties like that when they should be writing exams and other papers.

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Just good television

There are way too many school clichés to cover in this article, and it is expected that students know this from the get-go. Sadly, not everyone does, as some get in expecting to experience explosiveness to their social lives as they saw on their favorite drama. Luckily, you might not get bullied to the extent of being locked inside a locker, but you won’t be partying for days on end either.


By Claire Fair - 09-04-2021

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