Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Should Philly let Tony Danza teach high school?

Posted by sanityinjection on August 14, 2009

This post is especially for Ms. D, because she’s a teacher and because she requested a non-politics post for a change 🙂

The Associated Press is reporting that cable network A&E is finalizing a deal for a new reality show called “Teach” in which veteran actor Tony Danza would co-teach a 10th grade English class in an urban Philadelphia high school. School officials will vote next week on whether to accept the deal, which would allow at least 13 episodes of the show to be shot at Northeast High School. The school district would receive $3500 per episode (for a total of  $45,500) plus expenses, and would have the right to “object to footage”.

So the question arises: Is this a good idea? Should the school sign on for this project or reject it? Let’s look at some of the pros and cons.

Pro: Danza might actually make a decent teacher. He’s a talented, down-to-earth individual who worked hard to get where he is. He’s clearly embraced the project, having read the literature in the school’s curriculum and attended new teacher orientation. He’s the type of person who could inject enthusiasm into a subject and get kids to pay attention.

Con: Students might well find the cameras to be a distraction. The show might foster a circus-like atmosphere in the school which would be bad for students and teachers alike.

Pro: Danza’s presence might help with teacher recruitment and student attendance and call attention to the challenges of urban public education. Real teachers at the school might gain recognition for what they do every day.

Con: Other teachers might be concerned about the way the show portrays their job. If Danza is a success, having had little training, they might worry that people will ask why other teachers who have professional training can’t achieve the same results. If Danza struggles, they might worry that his difficulties will be blamed on the school system (lack of funding, rigid institutional culture etc.) Since Danza is the focus, anyone who disagrees with him or opposes him in any way could come off looking badly.

Pro: The school district could use the money from the show to benefit students at other schools in the district.

Con: $45,000 is a drop in the bucket for an urban school budget and wouldn’t go very far.

Pro: Having the right to object to footage assures the school can avoid being presented negatively. Also, A&E has a better reputation for serious programming than most networks.

Con: It’s not clear whether the right to “object” to footage is the same as the right to veto it. And while A&E clains that the show will be produced in a responsible way, ultimately the goal is ratings, and it’s not hard to imagine that the show could try to “creatively” influence events at the school in a way that wouldn’t necessarily be in the school’s best interest.

I am honestly on the fence about this one. My gut reaction is that it’s a bad idea, but from Philly’s perspective they must be thinking that if they don’t greenlight it the show will just go somewhere else. With the planning having gone this far, the school probably doesn’t want to look like they are resistant to new ideas. The city’s mayor and at least some school officials are supporting the idea.

Fundamentally, I think my main objection is that the goal of educating students will necessarily become secondary to the goal of producing a successful TV show. I’m sure the producers don’t feel those goals are mutually exclusive – and often they may not be – but if push comes to shove, the money and the cameras will call the shots, and that’s not good for students, faculty, or administration.

What do you think?

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6 Responses to “Should Philly let Tony Danza teach high school?”

  1. Ms. D said

    I feel so honored that you took so much time to discuss something that could potentially change hundreds of students’ lives!

    Personally, I think you are right on target. Maybe I am old fashioned but school should be about learning, so students can go out into the world and be productive, successful individuals. As you have said before, there isn’t a single reality show out there that doesn’t portray some, or all, of its “actors” negatively, when indeed that might not be the case. If Tony wants to do this, he should do it, like a real teacher, no cameras, no producers, nothing. Then, he could write a good book about it (and get more kids and adults to read!). It is hard enough to keep a 15 year old’s attention for more than a few minutes, but with lights and cameras and action, my job would be literally impossible.

    There are many other ways that could help portray the struggles of urban teachers, but fake “reality” should not be one of them. The network is the one who will succeed in this. They will make millions on this show, and no school needs only a mere $45,000. The damage could be very significant and you present so many cons here that I am sure any sane individual can see that this is not a good idea.

    • Ms. D said

      This brings to mind the late Frank McCourt, who did teach teens for 3 decades and wrote several amazing books about it. I’d like to challenge Tony Danza to do the same.

  2. Ms. D said

    Someone else pointed out that unless Tony Danza has a degree in English, has taken the state teaching test and has a certain number of college hours in Education, he is not a candidate to teach English. But who are we kidding? That is why he would be a “co-teacher.” Obviously he is not “highly qualified” by state standards and cannot be allowed to teach in a classroom by himself, legally.

    And let me just also add that there is NO way that people would watch Tony having an easy time teaching urban teens (and being successful at it) and think “what are teachers doing? This stuff is easy!” Teaching teens is challenging in every single aspect of one’s life, physically, emotionally, spiritually, so I don’t care how good your hair looks or how thick your accent is, it just isn’t going to happen! So, we can take that off the “con” list! ha ha

    Anyway, it goes without saying, you made my day. 🙂

  3. Ms. D said

    Here’s an update on the fact that T.Danza is actually doing it. I hope it works out, now that it’s started. I’m just glad he’s not at my school . . .

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=113166330

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