Everything that can be wrong is wrong—in public high school. [Dir: Arthur Hiller/ Nick Nolte, JoBeth Williams, Judd Hirsch, Ralph Macchio/ 106 min/ Drama/ Government Schools, Incompetent Government, Working for Government]
“The damn school wasn’t built for us, Roger; [it] wasn’t built for your unions, your lawyers, [and] all your other institutions. It was built for the kids. They’re not here for us. We’re here for them.” That’s a refreshing sentiment, and it’s the message of this film.
The teacher who voices that opinion is a disillusioned but well-meaning guy, who’s trying to do a good job in spite of a tough school environment. In particular, years of bad management have created a plethora of now familiar problems—outdated curricula, decaying infrastructure, oversized classes, unending bureaucracy, etc. And these problems in turn have created a population of bored students, indifferent teachers, and cynical bureaucrats, all rebelling against each other in ways that range from disrespect to outright violence.
It’s no wonder then that this school is also being sued by a former student, for failing to teach him to read and write. The ever defensive school board reacts to the lawsuit by trying to cover up the school’s problems. However, in the end the beans get spilled anyway, so there’s hope that things will improve.
This film is effective as an indictment of the public school system, but it stops short of offering a solution. Nonetheless, it’s at least a good reminder, if you needed one, that government doesn’t work. I thought Nick Nolte, in the leading role, was a bit piggish to be taken seriously as a reformer, but Nolte fans may be more forgiving. In any case, the film has its moments and makes its point that something has to be done about public schools. It was produced by Aaron Russo, who has been active in promoting a return to constitutional government.