Last evening (August 13), Turner Network Television (known to your cable listings as "TNT") presented an original two-hour film, "The Ron Clark Story." (See David Martindale, "A Ron Clark of His Own," on the TNT Web site, describing the movie and Matthew Perry (who played Ron Clark) and his tie to the theme of the film.)
The movie is modeled on a true story of an energetic, inspiring, caring teacher who seeks -- and finds -- one of the most challenging classrooms in America, sticks it out, turns it around, builds self esteem in his students and ultimately their test scores as well.
There are many things wrong with President Bush's "no child left behind." But the movie underscores one way in which it's absolutely right on.
Face it, there are a lot of K-12 students who are a real pain. Whether they can learn or not they don't want to. They can be disruptive, disrespectful, bad role models for the others, and sometimes a real physical threat to students and teacher alike. Other students come from poor homes that provide little intellectual stimulation or support.
The most natural thing in the world is for teachers to tend to favor the students who show talent, ambition, and some genuine interest in learning -- as well as respect for the teacher. Even those who act up, if they come from the homes of the prestigeous and powerful in the community, are likely to get more, and more sympathetic, attention than those whose parents will seldom if ever show up at school, and would be relatively ineffective were they to do so.
I'm sure there were teachers who watched that movie last night and thought, "That's fine if that Ron Clark wanted to do that, but it's not for me. Nobody's paying me to visit parents, track down kids, and put in that kind of extra time. Besides, I value my life too much to put myself in that kind of danger." It's not a totally irrational response.
But I still think that it would be useful, when school districts are planning workshops and inspirational speakers for their teachers, to consider setting aside an hour and a half (the movie without commercials) for teachers to watch this movie. If even one or two percent of them got the insight, got the inspiration, came to understand from this dramatic portrayal of the message, that all kids are valuable, all kids can learn, that some children are being "left behind" -- even within their own school system -- and that it lies within the teachers' power to do something about it.
And that, when they succeed, nothing can be more rewarding.