Teachers in the 'Hood: Hollywood's Middle-Class Fantasy

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The urban-high-school genre film has become one of Hollywood's most trusted formulas. In these films a classroom filled with socially troubled and low-achieving students is dramatically transformed by the singular efforts of a teacher or principal, an outsider who is new to the school and often new to teaching entirely. All of this is accomplished to the consternation of the inept administrative staff and other teachers, who never believed that these students had such potential. Invariably, the outsider succeeds where veteran professional teachers and administrators have repeatedly failed. I argue that the urban-high-school genre of film reinforces the “culture of poverty” thesis and represents the fantasies that suburban middle-class America has about life in urban high schools and the ease with which the problems in urban high schools could be rectified—if only the right type of person (a middle-class outsider) would apply the right methods (an unconventional pedagogy with a curriculum of middle-class norms and values). The teacher- or principal-hero represents middle-class hopes that the students in urban schools can be rescued from their troubled lives not through significant social change or school reform, but by the individual application of common sense, good behavior, a positive outlook, and better choices.

Original languageAmerican English
JournalThe Urban Review
StatePublished - Jan 1 2002


  • high school
  • film
  • American culture
  • individualism
  • culture of poverty


  • Arts and Humanities
  • Sociology

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