Blackboard Jungle. No, wait, To Sir with Love. Or was it Stand and Deliver? Aisha Harris has a nice essay in Slate discussing the impact of this film twenty years after its release. I've always thought there's a dissertation brewing with films like this. And then there's a film like Kindergarten Cop, which tells the audience all you have to do to be a good teacher is blow a whistle and have students march like little soldiers.
When Dangerous Minds opened 20 years ago this week, the critics couldn’t tell their readers loudly enough just how totally over it they felt. The film “tells another one of those uplifting parables in which the dedicated teacher takes on a schoolroom full of rebellious malcontents, and wins them over with an unorthodox approach,” began Roger Ebert in his unrelenting slam of the film. The New York Times’ Janet Maslin hit the same theme: “[It's] formatted to match every other account of a dedicated teacher taming rebellious teens.”
Such critiques were not without merit. By 1995 the inspirational teacher movie, otherwise known as the “save our students” trope, was already several decades old, and Dangerous Minds stuck closely to its formula. That formula is simple: A new teacher takes on failing or at-risk kids who have long been abandoned by the system (usually in a poor, urban neighborhood) and helps turn their grades, and thus their lives, around. At some point, the teacher will reach a point at which she will want to quit, but an out-of-the-blue grand gesture by the kids will change her mind by the third act. It’s a subgenre that is naturally prone to sentimentality, so even the good or at least watchable examples of the form—like To Sir, With Love and Stand and Deliver—are at least somewhat cheesy.