Analytical Essay Dangerous Minds

"Dangerous Minds" tells another one of those upliftingparables in which the dedicated teacher takes on a schoolroom full ofrebellious malcontents, and wins them over with an unorthodox approach. Movieslike this are inevitably "based on a real story." Maybe they tell youthat because otherwise you'd think they were pure fantasy.

Themovie stars Michelle Pfeiffer as LouAnne Johnson, an ex-Marine who applies fora teaching job and is hired on the spot, to teach in "sort of a schoolwithin a school," she's told, "made up of special kids - passionate,challenging." A fellow teacher (George Dzundza) is more forthright:"These are bright kids, with little or no educational skills, and what wepolitely refer to as social problems." Johnson soon provides a thirdopinion: "Rebels from hell." She enters the classroom and isimmediately hooted down by a scornful class of African-American and Hispanicstudents who call her "white bread." She returns the next day with amore forthright approach: "I am a U.S. Marine. Anybody know anykarate?" They do, but mostly from kung-fu movies, and after she has throwna couple of the kids, she gets their attention.

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Herteaching methods are inventive. She bribes them with candy bars and free tripsto amusement parks, and involves them in the words of that important poet, BobDylan (the Tambourine Man might have been a drug dealer!). Soon they're in theschool library, finding connections between Bob Dylan and Dylan Thomas. (Firstprize: dinner with the teacher in the nicest restaurant in Palo Alto.) We haveseen this basic story before, in "Stand and Deliver," "Lean OnMe," "Teachers," "Dead Poets Society," and so on.

Thisversion is less than compelling. There is Emilio, the obligatory rebelliousclass leader (Wade Dominguez), and Raul, the class brain (Renoly Santiago), andCallie (Bruklin Harris), the bright girl who gets pregnant and is headed for"unwed mothers classes" when Johnson discovers she can stay in schoolif she wants to.

Pfeiffer,who is a good actor, does with this material what she can, and there is a nicescene where she tells Raul's parents they can be proud of their son. Butexamine the assumptions here.

What,exactly, will these disadvantaged inner-city kids accomplish by being bribedwith candy bars and the "relevancy" of Bob Dylan? Can they read andwrite? Can they compete in the job market? An educational system that hasbrought them to the point we observe in the first classroom scene has alreadyfailed them so miserably that all of Miss Johnson's karate lessons are notgoing to be much help.

Wonderingabout the Dylan-Dylan connection, I went looking on the Internet for moreinformation about My Posse Don't Do Homework, the 1992 book by LouAnne Johnsonthat inspired this movie.

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Ifound out something interesting: The real Miss Johnson used not Dylan but thelyrics of rap songs to get the class interested in poetry.

Raphas a bad reputation in white circles, where many people believe it consists ofobscene and violent anti-white and anti-female guttural. Some of it does. Mostdoes not. Most white listeners don't care; they hear black voices in a litanyof discontent, and tune out.

Yetrap plays the same role today as Bob Dylan did in 1960, giving voice to thehopes and angers of a generation, and a lot of rap is powerful writing.

Whathas happened in the book-to-movie transition of LouAnne Johnson's book isrevealing. The movie pretends to show poor black kids being bribed intoliteracy by Dylan and candy bars, but actually it is the crossover whiteaudience that is being bribed with mind-candy in the form of safe words by thetwo Dylans. What are the chances this movie could have been made with MichellePfeiffer hooking the kids on the lyrics of Ice Cube or Snoop Doggy Dogg? Theanswer to that question is in the absence of rap from the movie, and the waythe score swells shamelessly when Emilio the rebel finally hears some Dylan helikes, and stirs from his insolent sprawl to say, "read those linesagain." As a graduate student I was on a year's fellowship at the Universityof Cape Town, and taught once a week in a night school in a black township. Thestudents were preparing for an examination that might get them into universityclasses. The syllabus was the same as for white students, and we studiedShakespeare's The Tempest. There was irony there: young people living underapartheid, in a township where the necessities of life were scarce, after along day of manual labor, studying Shakespeare so that they, too, could take atest that for white students would be second nature.

Andyet . . . at least Shakespeare was worth studying, and his ideas and poetryinvolved them, and those who stuck it out had accomplished something worthdoing. Bob Dylan was more relevant in Cape Town in 1965 than in Palo Alto in1995, but even then, taking up their time with him would have been a con game.

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It’s a very big Internet, so you can be forgiven if you’ve missed David Simon’s absolutely incendiary op ed ‘There are now two Americas. My country is a horror show’ that was published on The Guardian’s website on December 7th. But if you’re reading this sentence, you no longer have an excuse and need to click over to said essay NOW and return here after you’ve read it.

You’ll thank me. Trust me, you’ll be smarter after you’ve read it. Go. Now. If there is anything worth your time, it’s THIS. Who wants to be ignorant? Not you, right?NOW.

In the days since it was published, Simon’s essay has turned into a shot heard ‘round the world. In my opinion it’s the most incredibly articulate, passionately argued, well-thought out meditation on America since, I dunno, something Mark Twain (or Kurt Vonnegut) wrote. I believe David Simon’s words to be of historical importance, that is to say future historians will read his essay in an effort to try to understand HOW the American people let it get THIS BAD and still allowed those responsible to continue to operate exactly as they had before. You’d think the economy crashing might have ushered in some change. And it has: Bad for the common man, but great for the capital-hoarding elites.

As Simon rhetorically asks—I’m paraphrasing here—“How much longer until the entire shithouse goes up in flames?”

David Simon’s words have incredible power. The kind of power that educates people, changes minds and makes them do something. It needs to be passed on and on and on until everyone has read it, even your idiot teabagger Fox News-watching Uncle Dumbshit. Especially him.

If you’ve already read Simon’s piece, what you may not be aware of (and the YouTube views thus far would seem to bear this out) is that the essay is actually an edited version of an extraordinary speech that The Wire creator gave in Australia at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Sydney Opera House. Simon spoke for about 30 minutes and then there was an extended Q&A beyond.

Watch this and then pass it on. On and on and on. He’s not exactly offering much of a prescription here—that’s not his goal—but the diagnosis is spot on…
 

Posted by Richard Metzger

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12.11.2013

02:01 pm

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