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War veteran Rick Dadier is one of three new teachers hired at North Manual High School, an inner city boys school. This is his first teaching assignment, which he needs to support himself and his insecure pregnant wife, Anne. Despite Principle Warnecke's assertions to the contrary, Dadier quickly learns that the rumors of student discipline problems at the school are indeed true. The established teachers at the school try to counsel the newcomers, all inexperienced in such situations, as how best to handle the rowdy students. Regardless, Dadier tries to exert discipline in his class, which provokes a violent response. Dadier believes the student leaders against him are Artie West, but more specifically Gregory Miller, who he thinks uses the fact of being black as a means of racial provocation. Dadier has to decide either to leave and teach at a "real" school, or stay and figure out how to get through to his students. If he decides to stay, he has to figure out who the real disruptive ... Written by
Blackboard Jungle is a breakthrough film that brings up important issues about urban schools.
I chose to watch Blackboard Jungle after I saw Rebel Without a Cause in Film class. I enjoyed the first movie and after I learned what Jungle was about, I assumed that I would enjoy it as much as Rebel. I was wrong; I enjoyed Blackboard Jungle twice as much.
Blackboard Jungle premiered in 1955, the same year as Rebel Without a Cause and historical milestones such as Rosa Parks' monumental protest of bus segregation. In fact, race relations pay an important part in this film, which I will discuss later. The movie is about a teacher, Richard Dadier, who accepts a job at North Manual High School. At this school, he encounters a school-wide discipline problem. The two main perpetrators in Dadier's class are Gregory Miller, a black student whom Dadier comes to see much promise in, and Vic Morrow, the true instigator of violence, whose gang attacks Dadier. Over the course of the film, Dadier also encounters apathetic teachers, a principal in denial, and a wife who gives birth prematurely. Eventually, Dadier must decide if his pursuit to teach is important enough to endure the hardship.
This movie brings up some very important issues that were just important in 1955 as they are in 2001. Violence in schools is still a major topic, culminating in the Columbine shooting which everyone should remember. Also important is how teachers are to deal with this threat. Dadier dealt with it by reaching out to Miller and by confronting Morrow. But is this a realistic scenario? Sometimes students just cannot be reached, and it is irresponsible to ask teachers to directly confront weapon-totin students who have a propensity for violence. This just goes to show that solving violence in schools is difficult. It has taken at least 46 years; it will probably take many more.
No female students are portrayed in Blackboard Jungle. This contributes to the stereotype that usually teenage boys are the ones who instigate violence. Of course, the statistics show that male students are mostly responsible for school violence, and many stereotypes exist for a reason. Rebel Without a Cause demonstrates the female role in school insubordination well, by including a woman in the main gang. Still, I would have liked to see a female student element in Jungle, to show that girls are often involved, and that they also influence male student's behavior.
For the era, the racial attitude of Blackboard Jungle is very progressive. Dadier confronts racial slurs in the classroom. The principal, who was tipped off by a student that Dadier was using racial epithets (when all he was demonstrating was the dangerous consequences of such racism), is not happy with this report and chastises Dadier. Both situations show that two important protagonists object to racism, signifying the film's aversion to this social aspect. This comes just after Brown v Board, simultaneous to Rosa Parks' significance, and long before the high point of the Civil Rights Movement. Blackboard Jungle should undoubtedly be recognized for its attitude on race relations and other controversial elements, such as rock and roll. At a time when rock music was still controversial and outside the mainstream, Blackboard Jungle opened and closed with Bill Haley and the Comet's "Rock Around the Clock." This was a bold step to take and was one of the reasons that the film was banned from many theatres. The relatively violent content also contributed to the barring of the movie and probably contributed to many riots that occurred in theatres while the movie was shown.
Overall, I enjoyed this movie, both for the issues it addressed, its support for educators and their responsibilities, and for its entertainment value alone. I highly recommend this film to anyone who is interested in educational dilemma, or someone who simply would enjoy a classic film with a progressive, realistic attitude. However, for anyone looking for a clone of Rebel Without a Cause, they won't find what they're looking for, but I guarantee they will enjoy it just the same.
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