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Teacher and Educational Journalist

Vasilis

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I totally respect your different perspective Vasilis. The great thing about discussing movies is the way they provoke very different viewpoints.
I agree with your comments about its portrayal of families and the media. Whether that trumps its very limited and negative perception of teacher attitudes and actions is a personal call. For me the latter dominated. For you it didn't. Different perceptions that are equally understandable and justifiable.

More important to me is just the fact that you took the time to see the film, read my column, and to respond. So thanks.

Ok you might have felt like

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Ok you might have felt like shutting down schools after watching Detachment but don't make the mistake to assume that most others felt the same way. I feel you are judging very unfairly the movie as having a goal that, to my eyes, this film has not. My first thoughts were that people need to listen to their children more and let them know they are there or then and they care about them. I didn't see this film as the portrayal of a completely dysfunctional school system but rather as the portrayal of failing families and the destructive effects of the media.

Life Skills Support Teacher

Institutions Running Amok

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Mark: I'm sure you recall these as cinematic examples of institutional failures to a tragi-comic degree ... two of them written by the late great Paddy Chayefsky (The Hospital, Network) ... plus you have to add Dr. Strangelove, The Loved One, The Magic Christian--all three written by another great satirical writer Terry Southern. Wag the Dog (David Mamet screenplay).

Perhaps Detachment was a bit too heavy handed in retrospect. It could have used some more black humor bits through out. Chayefsky and Southern were masters at that. Well, the closest we have to those writers these days is still Mamet. Forget Aaron Sorkin! Hehe.

There was one film back in the 80s called "Teachers" with Nick Nolte and JoBeth Williams that worked in that same Network/The Hospital vein. I recall that it was both funny and sad without being trite.

Teacher and Educational Journalist

Response to Paul

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Thanks Paul.
After responding to M.A.'s posting I don't want to be repetitive.

I obviously agree that food for thought is a good thing. I also agree that the film is entertaining.
And I agree that there are people out there like the ones portrayed in the movie. I also think there are aspects of many schools captured in parts of the film.

I'm just glad that in the real world of education all of these rarely come together in one school!

I also know that films are rarely truly realistic, although indie films frequently do a better job of that. But I think there is something a bit dishonest about creating the illusion of realism, trying to sell a film as realistic, and then using it to convey a highly skewed very personal message.

I still think it tells us more about the emotional experience of the screenwriter as a teacher than about schooling. If it had been made quite clear that this is what it was, I would have valued it more.

And again, thanks for taking the time to read my piece and to respond. I really enjoy these responses. I just wish there were more!

Mark

Teacher and Educational Journalist

Response to M.A.

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One of the great things about film is how effectively they can be used to evoke feelings and stimulate dialogue, one of the main reasons they're so good in teaching. And almost always the differences in perception are part of the fun. In that spirit I enjoyed your response, as much as you and I differ. Too bad we can't have the exchange in person!

I do agree with you about the Liu and Caan characters, I also do want you to know that I often love very dark films, so much so that some people very close to me roll their eyes when I recommend another dark one.

I felt that this one crossed over the line into a caricature of the dark dismal school and depressed teachers. As you'll see in my next column (a trailer for that one!), my daughter teaches in a school that challenges her inherent hope and optimism every day, but like most, and like some of the "targeted" schools I know in San Francisco, it is also filled with some great positive thinking and acting teachers (even some older ones!), some really great kids, and some very involved parents.

I don't think you and I disagree very much re the problems of schools, though we clearly differed re the message of this film.

I appreciate your investment and that you took the time to thoughtfully respond. As I noted, I wish we could sit down over coffee to discuss it further!

Mark

Life Skills Support Teacher

Detachment Cuts to the Bone

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As well it should! A little "Taxi Driver," a little "...And Justice for All," plus a little "Blackboard Jungle" and you have "Detachment."

Anyone who has taught at-risk populations in urban environments (as I have) understands the pain and frustration of trying to correct decades of liberal social engineering and its damaging effects on the traditional family unit in those environments. When the family unit fails to do its job, the child's chances of failure will increase. Why? There's no one at home to provide proper guidance and teach proper values like personal responsibility, self-respect, and respect for others. Teachers are expected to be substitute parents. That's nonsense.

I have also taught in residential treatment facilities with adjudicated youth diagnosed with emotional disturbances. One learns to deal with kids cussing in their face all day, otherwise, they fail. Once one understands why they act that way and not take things personally, they're OK. But some people crack after awhile, like Lucy Liu's character. James Caan's character was the most resilient. A daily dose of an effective SSRI does wonders!

Why teachers fail in this environment is due to inadequate training. They should all be trained in special education in order to deal with kids functioning well below grade level.

The film did a great job at dealing with how underlying emotional traumas do affect how one functions. Barthes is detached due to his own childhood trauma over his mother's suicide. Erica needs an adult she can confide because she's been abused and abandoned. Meredith is rejected and bullied. Most everyone hurts in this film. Barthes tries to feel and show compassion. He succeeds with Erica but not with Meredith. The system is stacked against him. The "little guy" gets crushed. Barthes was the "failed saint."

The film had bleak moments but hey, that's real life. It could have been even MORE bleak without the sappy piano and songs. But that's OK, I don't look to cinema to feel good. I watch films to learn about aspects of the human condition.

It's a shame we don't have a writer like Bertolt Brecht around these days. He was a master and alienation and detachment between the audience and the material. He would have done a great job directing this film. A lot less hammy-handed than Tony Kaye, I'm sure of that. His "American History X" had some of the same problems.

Student-Centered Secondary Math Teacher

Depressing, but Enjoyable and Real

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Detachment looks at several dark aspects of some schools and some people, exaggerates, and gives the viewer something to think about, and it is entertaining. The students, counselors, teachers, administrators, parents, book publishers, and district personnel exist as portrayed in the movie.

The movie implies that every person is responsible for their own life and suffers (or benefits) from the consequences of their own decisions and actions. It also shows that schools (and children) face the huge task of transcending societal change and bad parenting.

The movie is dark, depressing, negative, not about the solution, and does not portray a typical school. However, since when are movies and TV about realism? It is a good movie. Food for thought is a good thing.

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