Table of Contents

    Cover Theme
  • "The Laptops Are Coming! The Laptops Are Coming!"

    By Sarah Heller McFarlane Things to think about before the laptops arrive in your classroom.
  • Free A Time to End the Silences

    By the Editors of Rethinking Schools

    "When texts don't talk about racism, when standards don't mention racism, when teachers don't teach about racism, they automatically eliminate any discussion of anti-racism."
  • Prophet Motives

    An excerpt from Keeping the Promise?: The Debate Over Charter Schools

    By Leigh Dingerson "Any discussion of charter schools must ask not only whether charters promote a worthwhile vision of public education, but also whether they are faithful to their own promises."
  • Fault Lines in Merit Pay

    By Sam Coleman "Far from addressing the systemic, institutionalized problems in New York City's public schools, the city's test-based pay program attempts to provide a 'silver bullet' solution by relying on crass material incentives."
  • City Teaching; Beyond the Stereotypes

    By Gregory Michie "For city teachers, it's also about functioning within—and challenging—a system that in many ways works to undercut and even thwart your best efforts."
  • Rethinking MySpace

    By Antero Garcia "As an educator constantly searching for ways to use popular culture in my classroom, I decided to make MySpace part of my teaching repertoire."
  • Childhood Is Dying

    By Dahr Jamail, Ahmed Ali "Iraq's children have been more gravely affected by the U.S. occupation than any other segment of the population."
  • Empire or Humanity

    By Howard Zinn "The American Empire has always been a bipartisan project—Democrats and Republicans have taken turns extending it, extolling it, justifying it."
  • Introduction

  • Putting a Human Face on the Immigration Debate

    By Steven Picht-Trujillo, Paola Ledezma "For those of us working with immigrant populations, we have in our students living examples that we can use to bring the immigration issue to the forefront and teach all of our students."
  • An Open Letter to the Hispanic Scholarship Fund from the Association of Raza Educators

    The Association of Raza Educators implores you: open your scholarships to all students of Hispanic descent regardless of citizenship.
  • Everything Flowers

    By Lisa Espinosa "I noted the biased curriculum... the absence of lessons on the Chicano movement or other aspects of my history and culture, the various attempts to make me less Mexican and more white."
  • Pump Up the Blowouts

    By Gilda L. Ochoa "This year is the 40th anniversary of the Chicana/o School Blowouts, and I wonder how schools, communities, and the media will mark this important movement."
  • Free Review: Our Dignity Can Defeat Anyone

    By Julie Treick O'Neill By Julie Treick O'Neill A review of the film Maquilapolis [City of Factories]
  • Departments Free
  • Resources

  • Letters to the Editors

  • Short Stuff
  • Kids in the Middle

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City Teaching; Beyond the Stereotypes

City Teaching; Beyond the Stereotypes

By Gregory Michie

From the opening frames, it's evident that Half Nelson isn't going to be a conventional "urban teacher" film. It begins on the hardwood floor of a bare apartment, where Dan Dunne sits in his underwear, legs outstretched, a scraggly beard creeping down his neck, a dazed, spacey look in his eyes. An alarm clock buzzes insistently in the background. It's time for Dan to leave for school, but he's struggling to peel himself off his living room floor. Soon, we understand why: in addition to being a social studies teacher and the girls' basketball coach at a Brooklyn junior high school, he's a crack addict, a basehead.

Dan wants to be a good teacher, and even when he's coming unglued personally-which is often-he does his best to hold it together for his students. In his classroom he ditches the prescribed curriculum and asks his black and Latino kids to wrestle with tough questions. His methods are part Socratic seminar, part didactic ramble, but his lessons push students to think, to make connections, to see history as something that can be shaped by everyday people working together and taking action.

Yet we're never tempted to see Dan as the savior, the white hero-and not just because of his drug habit. While it's clear that he despises the forces that keep his students down ("the machine," he calls it), the filmmakers remind us that he's not an innocent. When he asks his kids during class one day to name the obstacles to their freedom, their answers come easily: "Prisons." "White [people]." "The school." Then Stacy chimes in from the back row: "Aren't you part of the machine then? You white. You part of the school."

As committed as Dan tries to be to his students, it's obvious that he's holding on by a thread. He succumbs to his addictions at night and is distracted and tired in class the next day. It seems inevitable that his two lives will collide, and one evening following a girls' basketball game, they do. One of his students, Drey, a player on the team, finds him cowering in a bathroom stall, soaked in sweat, crack pipe in hand. She glares at him, more hurt than surprised; he looks terrified.

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