Juvenile Delinquency in the Classroom

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In depicting juvenile delinquency in the classroom, a few film directors portrayed novice teachers' desire to reach what the school system customarily labeled as "problem students." These films illustrate that these students are often categorized quickly and unfairly, and hopeful intervention by a few caring and zealous teachers is enough to change their lives and attitudes for the better. In the black and white 1955 film "Blackboard Jungle," Mr. Dadier (played by Glenn Ford) was an idealistic teacher on his first job in a tough urban mostly white male high school. The characters were dressed in clothing of the time (jeans rolled up at the cuffs, tee shirts, bow ties, baseball caps) and the boys wore their hair in the Elvis Presley pompadour style. The students were led by a gang leader, Artie West, whom they looked up to and feared. Mr. Dadier was faced with a bunch of rough juvenile delinquents, fellow staff members who were unresponsive and indifferent, and a principal who refused to admit the school had discipline problems. Sidney Portier, for example, played a student who found no one really cared--students and teachers alike--so he just took up space until he could drop out of school. Mr. Dadier, however, was determined to turn these students around: "Yeah, I've been beaten up, but I'm not beaten. I'm not beaten, and I'm not quittin." This film focused on a teacher who was willing to fight for the students and find ways to reach them with tactics other than just typical pedagogy or academic discipline. Where it is commonly believed that students growing up in poor families seem to be labeled as juvenile delinquents and not much is expected of them, Mr. Dadier tried to change this perception by showing his s... ... middle of paper ... ...rience. Viewers who grew up in an inner-city environment and attended schools during the 60's and 70's, were accustomed to the racial rioting, drinking and drugging, peer pressure against conformity, and traumatic home lives these movies underscore. Although I had opportunities other than being a part of this self-indulgent culture, I just did not know it at the time and no one ever went the extra mile to let me know. It was always easier to label students who fail to comport as "problem students" or "juvenile delinquents." It wasn't until I got older that I discovered the choices that LouAnne in "Dangerous Minds" kept talking about. In retrospect, these films all have quite a lot in common. They filled me with renewed hopes and dreams and made me revisit my school years. Juvenile delinquency? Generation gap? I wonder if those terms are falsely constructed.
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