Monday, February 6, 2017

Aaron Harlow: "School of Rock: An Illustration of Education and the American Dream" (ENG 102: Spring 2017)

Aaron Harlow
English 102
"School of Rock: An Illustration of Education and the American Dream"

                There are many ways in which educational institutions push the norms of society on children.  Most of what we call education today is simply overloading kids with information they don't know how to use and expect them to recite it on paper.  The teachers don't reach out to the kids like they should, much of it is, in sociological terms, instrumental leadership (a more task oriented form of leadership),  rather than expressive leadership (leadership that exchanges thoughts and ideas), which would be the preferred method.
                Then there are the norms that society pushes on grown adults after they get out of school, such as go to college, get a nice house, start a family, be "successful."  In other words, live the American Dream, and anyone who doesn't strive to achieve it is harshly criticized and often viewed as a failure.
                Richard Linklater's 2003 film, School of Rock addresses both of those issues, and shows how they are affecting society today.  In School of Rock, Jack Black plays Dewey Finn, an unsuccessful rock musician who gets kicked out of his band, No Vacancy, and replaced due to his over-zealous performance.  Dewey doesn't have a job or ambition, and lives with his friend, Ned and Ned's girlfriend, Patty.  Patty portrays how society would generally look down upon people like Dewey.  He is just a loser with no accomplishments or any reasonable goals, and he should get a life, stop mooching off of his friends, and be more like Ned, who has a teaching career.  She is an accurate depiction of how judgmental many of us are in society.  Ned, with his lack of confidence, reluctantly sides with Patty.  Ned represents the conformist.  He doesn't stand up for himself (until the end, when he finally shuts the door in Patty's face), and is an ideal image of what is expected of us in society, even though deep down he admires Dewey and misses his life as a bassist, when it was more exciting.  Dewey represents the rebel, the one parents teach their kids not to be, with either no stable income, or doesn't make an honest living.  When Dewey pretends to be Ned and accepts his offer to substitute for a very prestigious elementary school, Dewey simply slacks off and ignores the kids at first.  But then one day he sees the kids in their music class and is amazed at their musical ability.  He then turns the class into a rock band, and instead of teaching them the standardized curriculum, he teaches them the origins of rock and roll, and all the bands that inspired the movement, such as Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, etc.  He also teaches the kids the attitude of rock and roll, which is to "stick it to the man" so the kids start to become more rebellious as well.  He trains the kids on stage performance as well, all with the intent to win battle of the bands to show up No Vacancy.  The principal, Roz, can also be a representation of the conformist.  She is strict and serious on the surface, but later opens up to Dewey that she was once fun and had a more colorful life, and that she doesn't like what she's become and gets overwhelmed with the stress of running a school that holds such high expectations.
                The movie was intended to prove that you don't have to conform to be successful or live a good life.  At the end of the movie, Dewey held an after school activity where the kids could play rock and roll songs and help improve their performance.  Although Dewey's behavior was not entirely ethical, he inspired the kids with musical ability to flaunt their talents and encouraged them to expand their horizons.  He made them comfortable with who they were, as with the girl that was self-conscious about performing because of her weight, and expressing their talents. 
                It is possible that Richard Linklater named Dewey after John Dewey, a famous philosopher and activist of educational reform throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  If you juxtapose both of their ideals, Dewey's teachings  were remarkably similar to those of Jack Black's character, as both were proponents of exchange of ideas and creativity.  They both seemed to embrace the practice of abandoning habits, as John Dewey's belief was that man behaved out of habit, and enforcing change is what could cause him to think more creatively (
                Dewey is the missing link in the educational system.  He is the enthusiasm that kids should have, the encouragement and motivation that is not displayed enough in most public schools, which is a leading factor to the high school drop out rate.  Over twenty-five percent of dropouts admitted that they dropped out of school because of being bored.  Although there are many socioeconomic factors involved with the high school dropout rate, boredom is a common problem which can easily be remedied by enhancing student teacher interaction (Skye).  Who wouldn't get bored listening to some teacher drone on about a subject with which they have no apparent interest?  If kids are bored, they are obviously not learning anything.  Just because a student isn't making passable grades on a test does not mean they aren't learning anything in that subject.  Vice versa, just because a student is receiving decent grades, that doesn't necessarily mean that they are learning anything either. 
                On the other hand, you would be surprised to see how many high school dropouts have led productive lives.  Some of the most notable geniuses, such Ben Franklin and Thomas Edison did not go through a structured educational system, as well as our founding fathers.  So how did they do it?  The schools' advertised purposes are to make them into good people, good citizens, and to make kids acheive their personal best.  But according to Alexander Inglis, schools have six hidden intentions.  The first is to get kids reactive to an authoritative state.  The second is to get them to conform.  They  must then calculate their social role where they will be trained accordingly.  Then they label the failing kids with special programs to alienate them from the rest of the class.  Finally, there must be a small group of kids trained to manage the dumbed down majority (Gatto).  In short, the educational system is carefully regulated to train kids to be peasant-minded enough to be able to produce and stimulate the economy.  That is the main interest, not the children's well-being and education.
                Another main point School of Rock highlights is how people are judged in society for not aiming to achieve the standards of the "American Dream."  What is the American Dream?  The term originated in 1931 by James Tuslow and by definition refers to an ideal life of material comfort and personal happiness.  It is the life for which each individual in the United States aims.  And it has devolved to have an almost hypnotic effect on many Americans.  In this film, Dewey is basically the opposite of such a life.  He is the bum that has no direction or ambition.  While it is necessary to have these things to succeed, to simply push one's own ideal perception of life on kids can have a negative impact and cause a lot of stress on a kid.
                The American Dream plays a role on public education in that it pushes the intent of turning kids into democratic citizens.  Schools also have an agenda for pushing their kids to be successful.  There are, however, different interpretations of success.  One refers to absolute success, which is being at a higher state of welfare than where one started.  The other is relative success, which is comparative in the sense that it focuses on attaining more than others, such as parents, classmates, colleagues, etc. (Hochschild, 9-12).  The American dream, and its promise for equal opportunity of "success", however one may define it, has therefore placed a tremendous burden on kid's  education.
                Parents' expectations for schools can reflect on how they remember school.  A majority of parents have been reported to show the most concern on issues such as violence and lack of discipline, and only eight percent of respondents said the major issue was the quality of education (Hochschild, 80).  Keep in mind that the quality of education is not limited to the content of the cirriculum, but the way it is taught is also key.
                The United States is globally ranked 17th in education.  The reason for this, according to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, is due to the level of importance the nation places on education.  According to this study, better teaching methods have been known to improve one's social results in ways such as preventing teen pregnancy and better financial skills.  Schools also need to fine tune their curriculum to accommodate for technological advances (Gayathri).  With that in mind, it is obvious that students respond better to a teacher that they can identify with easier.  It helps them out in life and helps them shape their perspective and think differently about their future.  If you think back to your favorite subject in school, you will find that your fond memories of the subject will often be associated with the person who taught it.  Now imagine if every one of your subjects had a teacher like that.

                In summary, School of Rock has helped shed light on a very important issue.  It is that kids getting overloaded with information they don't know what to do with is  what passes for education in the United States.  We see a high percentage of high school dropouts resulting from kids getting bored in school,  which is easily avoidable simply by enforcing more effective teaching methods.  Also, it has been proven throughout history that some of the most productive and effective members of society had very little, if any, structured schooling.  Our idealistic American Dream is suppressing kids from striving for more, and not aiming to improve the kids as individuals, but is more an effort to mold them into being another slave to the democratic machine, as well as judging others that don't pursue it.  Educational reform is necessary, and we shouldn't rely on schools too much to raise our kids for us.  If you feel as though your child or children are not learning anything, address the issue with the school and see what can be done to improve it.  Pull your kids out of school and teach them yourself if you have to.  If kids are not processing information the teachers present them with, it may not be their fault.    Students need a teacher with an expressed passion for the subject they are teaching, and a willingness to work one on one with the kids to help them improve themselves.  They need a Dewey Finn.

Works Cited

Gatto, John Taylor.  "How Public Education Cripples Our Kids, and Why."  The Natural Child Project.  The Natural Child Project, 1996-2016,

Gayathri, Amrutha.  "U.S. 17th In Global Education Ranking; Finland, South Korea Claim Top Spots."  International Business Times.  IBT Media, Inc., 2017

Gould, Skye and Chris Weller.  "The most common reasons students drop out of high school are heartbreaking."  Business Insider.  Business Insider Inc., Oct. 1, 2015,  Retrieved January 27, 2017.

Hochschild, Jennifer and Scovronick, Nathan.  The American Dream and Public Schools.  Oxford University Press, Inc., 2003.

"John Dewey Biography."  The Website.   A&E Television Networks, April 2, 2014  Retrieved January 28, 2017.

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