"[I]f I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week…The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature." --Charles Darwin

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Another great movie teacher

Why didn't any of the advertising or promotion for the film Precious (2009) say that it was, in part, a film about an inspiring teacher as well as the liberating power of literacy?

As far as I can remember the publicity for this film when it opened last fall, it was all: overweight girl--sexually abused--expecting second baby--Monique plays horrible mother--terrible circumstances--escapes into fantasy, etc., etc., etc.

Were they trying to cover up the fact that most of the running time of the film she is enrolled in a successful alternative high school program with an extremely hard-working and empathetic teacher and a supportive community of similarly troubled, but striving young women? Was that shameful? Frankly, I avoided the movie at first because it was advertised as a depression-fest about people treating each other terribly, and only caught up with it on video this spring.

But the story (both novel and film) is about a young woman who escapes and transcends her environment, mostly through the power of the written word. Shouldn't we have been insisting that everyone, especially disadvantaged young women, see this movie? Even today, searching for an image on-line to illustrate this post, most of them show the star, Gabourey Sidibe, scowling, being taunted or otherwise looking miserable. There were no pictures available showing the class working together, learning, reading, writing, discussing, which, as I said, takes up much of the action of the film.

And what's wrong with a story about a great teacher who changes a child's life? Is that bad box office now? Do we only show teachers if they have drug problems or are abusing the children?

Not only does this teacher have an effective student-based literacy program, encouraging personal writing in a way that is difficult in a conventional middle-class schoolroom, but she goes above and beyond finding a halfway house for a student and even inviting her into her own home to show her another model for a happy, loving home.

The film underlines a point I try to make with students and parents all the time. Reading is the only real way we can get inside another person's head. Yes, we can watch movies and TV, but when you see a person's face, you cannot see what their eyes see. Only the word can do that--imperfectly, to be sure, but without an intervening medium or interpreter. The word goes straight from the writer's brain to yours and sets off explosions that cannot be stopped.

And all the publicity and discussion about this film will not tell you that Precious has a hopeful ending--not that all the problems are fixed, or that the title character's future is assured, but that she has a future, and the knowledge that she is loved.

Because no one will talk about this--teaching is an act of love. Why do it at all, if not for love?

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