Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Failing Grade



Like most people, I believe that teachers are wonderful people. They are entrusted with the weighty responsibility of shaping the minds of our young children. Bur for this vital job, they are paid poorly.

So when I learned of a documentary called American Teacher about this topic, I was quite interested in seeing what sort of insight the filmmakers would bring forth. Sad to say, after watching this film, there isn't much one learns about this subject that I didn't express in my first paragraph.

The less said about this film, the better, as it's a tremendous disappointment. The problem here is that director Vanessa Roth (who won an Academy Award for Best Short Documentary as producer of the 2007 film Freeheld) treats this much like a CNN report; to me, this barely had enough insight to merit that comparison. We are given glimpses into the lives of four teachers across the country and they're mildly interesting, but again, they don't tell us anything new or even remotely fascinating.

Another big strike against this film is the dreadful musical score by Thao Nguyen. This is wall-to-wall music - if you can call it that. It isn't very melodic nor does it even remotely highlight what's happening onscreen. (I'd certainly hate to listen to this noise on its own). The score is another example of how music can ruin a film. Can't we simply listen to a teacher tell us his or her story without music, especially when that music is inappropriate? I realize that this might not be of concern to a good number of viewers, but this score drove me up the wall and lowered my opinion of the film even more (the composition that accompanies the end titles is particularly nauseating).

Matt Damon narrates the film and toward the end, he talks about comparisons between countries such as Finland, Singapore and South Korea - the three leading nations in terms of math, science and reading scores - and the United States. We learn that teaching is an honored profession in these lands and that most people there look upon teaching as a life-long occupation; this as opposed to the United States, where many teachers look upon their role in the classroom as merely a stepping stone to another position. This short section is valuable and gives us some insight as to what this film should have been.

Near the end of the film, we get the usual shots of talking heads mouthing clich├ęs such as the "amazing dedication" teachers have or how there is a "compelling public interest" for the best education for our children. As I said, this is low rent CNN stuff that tells us nothing.

What a waste of time. I give American Teachers a failing grade.


American Teachers will be shown on Documentary Channel on Saturday, Sep. 1 at 8:00 PM EDT.


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