Hollywood can save our families — but won’t

MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” has increased searches for contraceptives and reduced teen births by 5.7 percent, a study concludes. 

Hollywood could “save our families” by changing story lines to promote stable, two-parent families, writes Megan McArdle on Bloomberg View. But don’t hold your breath.

Raising children the way an increasing percentages of Americans are — in loosely attached cohabitation arrangements that break up all too frequently, followed by the formation of new households with new children by different parents — is an enormous financial and emotional drain. Supporting two households rather than one is expensive, and it diverts money that could otherwise be invested in the kids. The parent in the home has no one to help shoulder the load of caring for kids, meaning less investment of time and more emotional strain on the custodial parent.

Extended families can help, but single parents have fewer relatives to call on, especially if the mother was raised by a single  mother, she notes. Government can’t make up for a missing parent. “Even in a social democratic paradise such as Sweden, kids raised in single-parent households do worse than kids raised with both their parents in the home,” writes McArdle.

The distance that matters in this case is not the much-discussed distance between the 1 percent and everyone else. Instead, it is the distance between the top 25 percent and the bottom 25 percent — between the people who still mostly live by the old injunctions to get married and stay married if you want to have kids, often while politely declaring that this doesn’t actually matter, and the people who are actually having their children in much more fragile and temporary relationships.

If Hollywood “believed that married two-parent families were overwhelmingly optimal, that would naturally shape what they wrote, in a way that would in turn probably shape what Americans believe, and do,” she concludes.

A math prof consults on a movie

A Math Professor Consults on a Hollywood Movie is a fantasy by Ben Orlin on Math with Bad Drawings.
“Where the bomb counts down from 10 to 1? That was well-done,” says the professor. “All the right integers, in just the right order.”

The exec wants a “secret equation” so the villain’s chief scientist can turn all the traffic lights to red to get every car in the city to stop. “What equation would a mathematician use?”

Professor: That’s not what mathematicians do.

Executive: But if you did, what would you use?

Professor: Traffic cones.

Executive: No, I mean with computers.

Professor: You’re using “mathematician” to mean a magical combination of a software developer and an evil wizard. I must be honest. I don’t know what methods such a person would use.

Executive: Let me rephrase. Name a type of equation mathematicians care about.

Professor: You mean… like a partial differential equation?

Executive: Perfect. We’ll work that into the dialogue.

At the climax, Professor Sweetbody discovers a pattern in the graph that reveals where the hostages have been hidden. “What exactly is this graph?” asks the professor.

Executive: You know. It shows the data. All of the data.

Professor: Does this data include the location of the hostages?

Executive: Sure, why not.

Professor: So Mila Kunis is able to recognize where the hostages are hidden… by looking at a graph of the hostages’ locations? A professor’s training is not necessary for this. A reasonably intelligent dog should suffice. Or even an undergraduate.

Executive: Fine, then. It’s a graph of other data. You know, cell phone calls, or water usage in the city, or whatever.

Professor: Well, golf courses consume a lot of water. Perhaps Mila Kunis could employ a water usage map to find a golf course.

Executive: But the hostages are in an abandoned warehouse.

Professor: That could be revised.

Executive: Look. All I want from you are a bunch of words mathematicians use to describe graphs.

Professor: What, like adjacency matrix, and bipartite, and k-regularity?

Executive: Yes! Perfect.

“Good job on the bomb countdown,” says the professor.

‘Won’t Back Down’ isn’t true — yet

Hollywood’s Won’t Back Down has “accomplished the impossible,” writes Glenn Garvin in the Miami Herald. It’s made “teachers’ unions demand strict accuracy” in a movie about schools.

For decades, Hollywood has been making movies that show teachers as superhuman caring machines without a peep from the unions. That math teacher played by Edward James Olmos in Stand And Deliver, the one who took over a classroom of kids who couldn’t do simple arithmetic and in nine months had them aceing calculus exams? History does not record a single union official complaining that, in real life, that process took several years.

Won’t Back Down stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as a single working-class mom with a dyslexic daughter and Viola Davis as a sympathetic teacher and parent. They join forces to take over a failing elementary school.

It’s “based on true stories,” the movie claims.

“That conveys the message that parents and teachers took over and ran a school somewhere,” wrote Rita Solnet, a founding member of the teacher-union front group Parents Across America, in a widely reprinted blog item. “That never happened.”

Not yet. But soon.

In southern California, Compton parents lost their parent trigger bid on a technicality. Some moved their kids from McKinley Elementary to Celerity Sirius, a new charter school in a nearby church. The new charter’s Academic Performance Index scores were significantly higher than McKinley’s scores after one year.

Mojave Desert parents are on track to take over Desert Trails Elementary in the fall. Friday, a Superior Court judge ordered the school board to comply with the court order authorizing the conversion. The parents union plans to choose a charter operator on Thursday. Two non-profits that run nearby charter schools are in the running, reports Ed Week.

“We wanted to keep it within the community, to keep it local,” said Doreen Diaz, who is helping lead parents seeking to convert the school to a charter. “They’re very different applicants and they speak to our community.”

At the same time, neither of the two finalists, LaVerne Elementary Preparatory Academy, in the nearby city of Hesperia, and the Lewis Center for Educational Research, a nonprofit group in neighboring Apple Valley, which oversees two charters, has experience turning around an academically low-performing school.

“Anybody who’s looked at this situation has said it will be very rough,” said Rick Piercy, the president of the Lewis Center.

Can the school be improved under new management? This time, we’ll see.

Saint, martyr, dolt or druggie?

Teachers’ on-screen image has hit the skids, writes Elizabeth Alsop in Not So Hot for Teacher in the New York Times.

In the past few years, viewers saw teachers turning tricks (“Hung”), dealing drugs (“Breaking Bad”) and taunting overweight students (“The Big C”). All, of course, while not teaching. In the opening episode of “The Big C,” a student in Cathy Jamison’s summer-school course asks, “Are you going to teach us anything today?”

“Have I ever taught you anything, really?” Jamison counters, before queuing up a DVD and returning to her online shopping.

On the first season of HBO’s “Eastbound and Down,” the baseball has-been Kenny Powers lands the one job seemingly available to a self-delusional drug enthusiast: substitute gym-teaching. In a typical scene, Powers arrives at a school dance high on Ecstasy, treats his ex-girlfriend and the assembled student body to a sexually explicit dance, then passes out in his own vomit on the auditorium floor.

Till recently, Hollywood has beatified teachers, Alsop writes. From “Stand and Deliver” and “To Sir, With Love” to “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” teachers have been inspirational heroes.

However, the teenage comedies of the ’80s and ’90s, portrayed teachers as bumblers, she writes (“Bueller? Bueller?”) Teachers lost “cultural prestige . . . hastening their slide down the rungs of respectability from dignified to doltish to outright dysfunctional.”

In the upcoming “Here Comes The Boom,” Kevin James is a biology teacher who becomes a mixed martial arts fighter to raise money for extracurriculars at his high school — and attract a pretty teacher. It’s “worse than Won’t Back Down,” writes Russo.