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Summer Movies Focus on Education


The list of films that feature teachers or education is long and distinguished. Continuing this tradition, in summer 2011, Hollywood will treat audiences to a run of films that focus squarely on the classroom.

"The First Grader" is one of several summer films to focus on education.

One production hitting screens this summer is “American Teacher.” The documentary, which will see a very limited release, looks at the educational crisis as seen through the eyes and experiences of our nation's teachers. The project is based on the New York Times best-selling book Teachers Have it Easy by journalist and teacher Daniel Moulthrop and writer Dave Eggers.

Narrated by Matt Damon, “American Teacher” is a character-driven film, telling moving and compelling stories using humor, irony, and the energy of the teachers who fill the screen. The release includes important facts and statistics that give historical and social context. These are interspersed with illustrations and animation by well-known artists, as well as quirky, campy (and outdated) educational filmstrips featuring teachers in America.

Another education-focused film enjoying a national release is “The First Grader.” Based on a true story, the film is set in a small, remote, mountain-top primary school in the Kenyan bush. There, hundreds of children are jostling for a chance at the free education newly promised by the Kenyan government. One applicant causes astonishment when he knocks on the door of the school. He is Maruge (Oliver Litondo), a Mau Mau veteran in his 80s, who is desperate to learn to read at this stage of his life. He fought for the liberation of his country and now feels he must have the chance of an education so long denied—even if it means sitting in a classroom alongside six-year-olds.

Moved by his passionate plea, head teacher Jane Obinchu (Naomie Harris) supports his struggle to gain admission, facing fierce opposition from parents and officials who don’t want to waste a precious school place on such an old man.

Easily the biggest film about teaching this summer is “Bad Teacher,” starring Justin Timberlake, Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel. Hitting theaters on June 24, the film is an over-the-top story that seeks laughs as it follows malcontent teacher Elizabeth. She is a foul-mouthed, inappropriate educator who drinks and gets high at school. All she really wants is to marry a wealthy man so she can quit her job. When she takes aim at a rich sub, played by Timberlake, her shenanigans get her students, coworkers, principal and the community at large into an uproar.

Whether they’re looking for high-brow cinema that can inspire actual change, or mindless entertainment that’s good for a few laughs, educators will have plenty of titles to choose from this summer at the multiplex. 

Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
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