‘I’ ON CULTURE
Right at a time when our schools are in deep crisis, what do we need but media playing off the “teachers are uncaring idiots” theme. Since my community recently got the so-called Peacock service, basically a group of streaming NBC shows and assorted movies, I had a chance to watch possibly the most vile show ever done about American education.
The show is called AP Bio, and when I saw the name, I had high hopes. I so seldom ever watch NBC, I assumed I had missed it. But Advanced Placement Biology is a class for bright students, and I really love shows that focus on kids who want to learn, unlike Welcome Back Kotter and Saved by the Bell. I loved the old Room 222 and Head of the Class sitcoms. I hoped the new show would reflect this.
The opening scene of the pilot, however, dashed all my hopes. Jack (Glenn Howerton), a Harvard grad who did not get a tenured teaching position, walks into a classroom declaring that he was not going to be teaching the students biology; what the group would be doing was finding ways to destroy his arch-enemy, the man who got the job he wanted. Over the course of several seasons, he has managed to completely avoid teaching any biology. It should be noted that it is constantly emphasized that he was a philosophy major, but they had him teaching the most advanced class in a scientific subject. The people sent in at the beginning as replacements were a gym teacher who had kids doing pushups, a secretary who used photos to describe the problems of her reproductive system and, finally, someone who seemed to really care. The writers got rid of that guy in seconds.
Principal Dan (Patton Oswalt) is a moron who seems not able to get anything done. The head of the teacher’s union (Lyric Lewis) hates the boss because he headed up the school’s glee club instead of her a quarter of a century earlier. The one teacher at the start we get to see anything of seems brilliant and charming, until we learn his nickname is Terry the Tickler and that he was pushed out of actually teaching after he “started dating the CPR dummy.”
I spent half my life working in schools. I have seen a few fools and some incompetents, but never anything close to what this show presents. I have taught AP classes, granted they were in American history and economics, but I had the same type of students who should have been in this class. The kids were eager to learn, and the classes were not only run on a college level but on a high college level. The kids were anxious to learn. Yes, some had problems, but nothing like the extreme level shown on this show.
Most students do want to learn, and almost all teachers want to teach. The biggest reason for teachers dropping out of the field is frustration when they can’t get through to students. I taught and was an administrator for years at high schools in The Bronx, a place that those who favor stereotypes probably imagine is a horror story for students. But both Adlai Stevenson High School, where I taught, and DeWitt Clinton High School, where I was an administrator, sent students to Ivy League schools. While I was at those schools in the last decades of the past century, the vast majority of seniors graduated, many of them going to state universities, as well as good private colleges.
The students themselves, certainly the brighter ones, actually wanted more work. One teacher who transferred to Clinton in order to have a nice restful couple of years at the end of a long career (the school has a long tradition of excellence) found that after a week, his students went to his supervisor to protest that he was not giving homework.
Most teachers want to succeed, and that means their students have to succeed. With the current pandemic, things are getting crazy and far more difficult. My daughter told me that she suffered greatly teaching students through technology the past fall semester because there was just no feeling of commonality; that the coming together as a learning group was just not there. School districts are having trouble finding and retaining new teachers.
The people behind AP Bio, who are also behind Saturday Night Live, might consider that the more they knock down teachers, the poorer our society will be. Instead of literate workers, we might have folks who find ways to collect money while sitting at home watching TV all day. Or is that what those people really want?