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American Education in Popular Media: From the Blackboard to the Silver Screen

reviewed by Kathleen J. Stoehr - October 23, 2015

coverTitle: American Education in Popular Media: From the Blackboard to the Silver Screen
Author(s): Sevan G. Terzian, Patrick A. Ryan (Eds.)
Publisher: Palgrave/MacMillan, New York
ISBN: 1137430729, Pages: 244, Year: 2015
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American Education in Popular Media contains ten essays that examine the influence of various media sources on the education system during the twentieth century. Editors Sevan Terzian and Patrick Ryan have assembled an innovative, thought-provoking, and diverse collection of essays that offer different perspectives and portrayals of the role literature, film, television, and music have played in shaping popular beliefs of American public education. These perspectives show the power the media has had in creating a history of education during the twentieth century that may not have always been accurate or representative of past educational events.

Terzian and Ryan begin the book with their own essay through the lens of popular culture by introducing the media that portrayed education during the twentieth century. The authors point out that educators were initially seen as positive, whereas later in the century, popular media painted an inaccurate and even harmful picture of both educators and students. Instead of depicting schools as places where fruitful learning takes place, the media often described classrooms as places where teachers and students were pitted against each other in unproductive confrontation. The remaining nine essays in the book subsequently take the reader on a chronological journey and examine how different media venues represented students, teachers, and school administrators during the twentieth century.

Chapter Two is devoted to Daniel Clark’s examination of magazines’ depiction of the college man as strong and masculine yet gentlemanly. Clark points out that the vast majority of magazines readers did not attend college during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Therefore, the general public was greatly influenced by the magazines’ portrayal of the college man. In the next chapter, Michelle Morgan’s study of the role that the media played in creating and then dismissing female teachers who were stereotypically seen as “crusty old school marms.” Morgan guides the reader through the transition that led to the public view of female teachers as professionals who could also be fashionable and participate in leisurely activities.

Heather Weaver’s essay in Chapter Four includes a discussion of how artwork in magazines portrayed boys as struggling to behave or be content in schools. This was in direct contrast to girls, who when compared to the disengaged boys were seen as capable students. Weaver points out that this gendered issue raised the question whether the academic needs of boys were being sufficiently addressed.

In Chapter Five, Patrick Ryan’s research focuses on how radio, television, and movies in the post-war era painted teachers as selfless in nature in order to meet the needs of students and the school at large. Ryan shares that through the media, teachers were viewed as morally sound and able to handle issues of behavior and equity in their classrooms. In this way, Ryan adds that the media acted as “a means of instruction” (p. 101).

The author of Chapter Six, Amy Martinelli, reports how mid-twentieth century films presented issues of juvenile delinquency. Martinelli shares that movies during this time period showed that connections between teenagers and their elders were more “frightening, ambivalent, or antagonistic” (p. 108) than ever before. Martinelli also investigates educational films that she believes helped to understand reactions to juvenile delinquency that occurred following World War II. Daniel Perlstein and Leah Faw then examine the film Blackboard Jungle. In their essay, the authors focus on adult concern surrounding an unorderly high school that struggled to control its often dangerous youth. In addition, they discuss how the movie supported the emerging youth culture within the high school and how the students and adults molded together the culture of the high school.

Andrew Grunzke leads a discussion in Chapter Eight on televisions comedies that focused on adults going back to school to seek a credential. In one sense, Grunzke argues that television depicted an adult who returned to school as a “foolish character” (p. 154) while also applauding a degree-seeking (either high school or college) person for doing so. Grunzke points out that television (and films) did not portray the need to return to school for economic reasons but for increased social pressure to do so.

In Chapter Nine, Robert Dahlgren focuses on how the authority of teachers was challenged during the latter part of the twentieth century. During this time, teachers were often portrayed in movies as autocratic educators who presented boring curriculum to uninspired students in classrooms that lacked appropriate classroom management. In his discussion, he highlights how social studies teachers were particularly targeted as well as scrutinized and mocked.

Kate Rousmaniere, who discusses how the media represented school principals across the twentieth century, authors the final chapter in the book. Her research describes two versions of a school principal, with the first being a male who is not capable of doing his job, is unethical, lacks masculinity, and is “weak and humiliated by women and children (p. 212). The second characterization of a principal that Rousmaniere describes exhibits bullying behavior and is somewhat mentally unstable due to the state of affairs in American education. Rousmaniere warns the reader how harmful these portrayals are, especially as they mask the issues of success and failure in schools.

The overarching message of this book is that the media has played a significant role in shaping the educational past of our nation. Taken together, the ten essays play an important role in illustrating the impact the media has had on teachers, students, and administrators—spanning from elementary school to university years. In Terzian and Ryan’s words, the chapters in this book serve to “inform our understanding of enduring issues surrounding the teaching profession.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 23, 2015
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 18209, Date Accessed: 1/25/2022 6:26:29 PM

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