The Crib of Education

DETACHMENT

Education is a subject important to any country, it is constantly reviewed by many governments for their annual budgets, as a social matter, it is discussed by academics, by educational institutions as renowned universities and, in an international although rather short group, they compete against each other, they also work together for academic publications and researches, and they look forward for innovation in education and manners of imparting and assisting classes. Education then is a political, economical and social issue but, what happens when the fundamental and the elementary education starts to fail? Is it just a problem of the education system, the education ideology, or education itself as seen like our personal stories? What happens with those ‘future generations’ in the present that make their possibilities tremble under a rogue of difficulties and ignorance? Where does everything starts and ends? In the film Detachment by Tony Kaye we can find depicted a problematic of the relation between parental education – children, student – academic education, where the three parts, one way or another, struggle to engage, to understand their actuality and try to progress. One of the important depictions of the film lies in who is in charge of the education: parents, teacher or both, how possible it is to educate in one area if the other is utterly failing and finally who are the most affected and the distorted possibilities they may come across along the way. Henry Barthes is a young man who works as a substitute teacher in different schools. Each work period is short enough for him not to get attached to anyone, however in his last assignment he enters into a world of low proficient students and discouraged colleagues. He faces the challenges in the classroom as well as in his personal life whilst taking care of his dying grandfather who resides in an asylum; his temporary relationship with Erica, a very young prostitute whom he gives shelter and his almost-relationship with one of his teacher- colleagues.

Throughout the film is clear the difficulty that teachers are having to educate and interest students properly. It is also mentioned that the Principal Carol Dearden, is about to be sacked due the low accomplishment of successful grades in students. The third part of the education missing, and by this I really mean ‘absent’, are the parents, who do not have a clear presence, they are like a voice in the background that does not nurture or supports the children. Only one or two of them appear in some scenes, and if not making a scandal, only as a shadow on the wall. This treatment of the parents presence, or rather absence, could be interpreted as a metaphor of the lack of interest and poor education students have received at home, it is not only evident in the children’s behaviour, but also in their figures as orphans when it comes to academic matters. In the second half of the movie an example of this is presented: the school is having a ‘Parents’ Night’ in which parents are supposed to attend, interact with the teachers and ask about their children’s performance; when the event finally starts, no parent appears in the scene, the halls are utterly empty, everything seems deserted and the teachers’ hopes and efforts seem to go underground:

“Ms. Perkins: I just don’t understand it. Where are all the parents?
Dr. Parker: I don’t know
Mr. Wiatt: I was in my room for two hours and saw one parent, where are they? Where is everybody?
Ms. Perkins: We don’t know
Mr. Wiatt: It’s uncanny”

To receive academic instruction it is essential to posses certain skills that are, most of the time if not always, acquired at home as focused attention, respect for authorities, curiosity, honesty, and a desire for knowledge; without these qualities, how will the teachers be able to do their job? It is not only to pass on the knowledge but also to inspire the creativity and work of the students, but it seems impossible to engage in such labours if the basic skills needed for their teachings to flourish are not developed. Now, the problem goes further if parents make a presence that is wrong and serves as a poor example for the children. In one sequence, this is exemplified by a mother breaking into the professors’ office, yelling and kicking, claiming that her daughter was expelled from school and that she wanted her back. Without any kind of dialogue with the responsible teacher, she just barged in and made her point. In a later scene we see the reason for the expulsion, the young girl spits on her professor’s face. The mother is diminishing the authority of the teacher by jumping over the decision without informing herself of the situation and is passing a general message to her daughter about demanding what she wants by screams and aggression. Thus, the attitude ‘spit on anyone’s face’ is reinforced. Even worst is when the parental education is not as an example but as a direct approach to the child’s condition: Meredith is a talented girl who is interested in art and photography, but her enthusiasm finds an obstacle in the presence of her father (voice off):

“Meredith’s father: What are you doing there? Meredith: Don’t you knock?

Meredith’s father: So what is all this supposed to be? Your tortured soul? Why don’t you paint something cheerful? Like happy with colour.

Meredith: What do you want from me, dad? Besides for me to have been born with a penis.

Meredith’s father: I don’t work all day to have my night ruined by your teen angst. Mostly As might get you a full-right to Stanford if you were some minority care but I am not going to support you and your little creative habits! Ok? I’ve had it with all your little art projects that are going nowhere!

Meredith: You always know what to say, dad.

Meredith’s father: Now, if you grew your hair up, and…lost some weight, you could attract a nice boy and, who knows…”

Therefore, the education is imparted by both sides, parents start the process and teachers complement it, if one of them fails, the other side is affected.

By acknowledging the fundamental role of parental education, it is easier to see that if education fails at home, is rather likely that it will fail at school. So, whereas the parents and their endeavours are not seen on screen, the journey of the teachers is shown. Each of them has a story behind, despite their personal problems they seem to put their efforts in a job that crashes them constantly against the students attitude. In the film it is evident that students hold the rules and teachers cannot do much against such a rebellion, however some of them, if just for a few moments, get to achieve something at expenses of their right behaviour or their attitude toward the school community. When Henry has its first class he attempts to inspire the young students and show them that through the themes they review in his class, they could find a way for many possibilities in their life, however the response he gets its quite harsh from one of them. His authority as a teacher is defended and kept by the way he respectfully and bravely confronts this situation:

Henry: Take out a piece of paper, I would like to assess where your individual writing skills are…
Kid: What if we got no paper?
Henry: Ok, here is the situation: You’re dead. Alright, write a brief but detailed essay about…

Kid: Hey Jackass… I asked you a fucking question!
Henry: …about what a friend or a parent might say about you during your funeral. Ok? You have 30 minutes.
Kid: Oh shit… I asked you a mother fucking question, didn’t I? (He throws Mr. Barthe’s bag away)

Henry: Anything else?
Kid: You’d better back the fuck up before I fucking rock your shit.
Henry: That bag…it doesn’t have any feelings…it’s empty. I don’t have any feeling you can hurt either, ok? I understand you’re angry. I used to be very angry too, ok. I get it. You have no reason to be angry with me, because I am one of the few people that’s here trying to give you an opportunity. Now I’m going to ask you to just sit down and do your best. And I’ll give you a piece of paper. How’s that?

It is difficult for the professors to build something in the students when the latter are reluctant even to listen, least to understand why it is important for them to attend to school and actually learn something, as a consequence a vicious circle starts to build up when the teachers become discouraged or depressed about their jobs and its reach, and thus reaffirming the students disinterest and ignorance. For most of them desperation hits the door when all their attempts have failed proving them incapable of reaching so deep within the scholars:

“Girl: What up Dr. Parker? Can we get this over with? I’ve got things to do.

Dr. Parker: Ok, so what are your plans after leaving High school Missy, since you are not going to college?
Girl: I don’t know…pfff, hang out with my boyfriend, do some modelling shit, be in my friend’s band.

Dr. Parker: Well, I have have your ten week grade report. You know what it says? F,F,F,F,F.

Girl: F,F,F,F,F…yeah.
Dr. Parker: You know what that means? It means you don’t care.
Girl: You’re brilliant… Can I go now?

Dr. Parker: God you are a shallow, disgusting creature. You wanna know the truth? One, you’re not going to be in any band or a model Missy, because you have no ambition. With no skills you’ll be competing with 80% of the US workforce for a minimum wage job, which should work out for the rest of your life until you’re replaced by a computer.

Girl: I don’t care

Dr. Parker: Two: the only talent you’ll ever have is getting men to fuck you. Your life will basically become a carnival of pain. And when you can’t stand it, not one more day, not one more hour. It will get worse, much worse! Every day I come in this office and I listen you kids to shit-off all over yourselves! It is so easy to be careless, it takes courage and character to care! None of you have any of these qualities. Get out! Just get out!. Get Out!

Girl: Fuck you!”

Once the vicious circle is set, the results spread extending to those hidden elements that want, but cannot, swim over the troubled waters. Following Meredith’s situation, she is really dedicated to her photography and his works of interventions on images, however the attitude of her schoolmates, the ignorance and discouragement of his father, and the low authority of the teachers prevent her to expose and show her real interest and therefore cope their road of development. Thus, the general field of education turns redundant and useless.

The consequences of such a situation in the film are beyond tragic, which could be taken as a statement of the gravity of those circumstances in real life. The result of the fracture between these two systems of education is an emotional and intellectual blockage, the kids not only suffer from utter indifference to their needs, but also are diminishing their opportunities to grow emotionally and personally, for them to have a better quality of life. So much as a slow and long suicide. In the film two young figures are set as an example of the lost road: Erica, a young prostitute that pursues Henry until he gives her a temporary place to stay and look after her. At first she cannot understand why Henry would do something like that, after a few days she accepts his behaviour and starts to care about him and responds with actions that show him that she is putting attention. He is showing and teaching her a better form of life. Unfortunately, he cannot remain as a foster parent so he has to call ‘social services‘ for her to be taken somewhere else, but even so, he has already showed her how important it is that she looks after herself.

“Henry: You now, you can’t keep living on the street.

Erica: I’m not, I mean I’m staying here with you.
Henry: Well, you can’t continue to stay here with me. I’m not good for you.
Erica: It’s not true. You’re like the only family I’ve ever had.
Henry: Well, I can’t be your family. I can’t give you what you need. You have to understand, you should be…
Erica: You are good and gentle, you are the most kind…I love you Henry.”

The other example, although more tragic, is Meredith’s situation. She, after a few encouraging words from Henry, who subtlety makes her see that the contemporary scheme of beauty is rotten and that she is valuable for who she is, develops a fancy for him, she spends her time taking photographs of him and pays close attention to his classes. However, when she tries to show him her affection, he has to set things clear and explain to her that there are boundaries in the relations between teachers and students. She brakes down into a very emotional and disrupting moment in which she seems devastated by his response, not because he could be more to her, but because the only person that was actually seeing her and recognising her is also rejecting her, hence she is alone. In a later sequence Henry tries to apologise and show her that he still appreciates her although in a restricted way, but it is too late, she has decided that given her circumstances her life is not worth living.

“Henry: Meredith?
Meredith: Yes?
Henry: Do you need someone to talk to?
Meredith: Yeah, will you talk to me? When you talk to me, and you look at me it’s like you really see me.
Henry: I do see you Meredith. Want to go see Dr. Parker with me?
Meredith: Oh come one, don`t blow me off to the guidance counsellor.
Henry: I’m not, I’m not…What can I do?
Meredith: It’s like you said, we’re…we’re forced into this. There is nothing left, nothing but to realise how fucked up things are. It’s not enough, I won’t last.
Henry: Listen to me, just listen. We are all the same, we all feel pain, we all have chaos in our lives. Life is very very confusing, I know. I don’t have the answers but I know that if you write it out, it will be ok.
Meredith: Mr. Barthes, do you like me?
Henry: Yes of course I do…
[…]

Meredith:  You said you liked me, please, please, please, don’t push me away, please. Just hold on to me and tell me that everything is gonna be ok.”

In both cases, what opened the door between Henry and the young ones, enabling the possibility of education and guidance, was the fact that the former was open to know them and show interest in them, not only for being students, but for being humans with the right of having a better life.

Detachment shows a cruel and hard situation of children and young teenagers who go through difficult situations at home, even if this are not depicted and only made perceptible. Teachers, although important in this process of development, remain impotent in front of the students, of the parents and of themselves, which may bring them dissatisfaction with their jobs and a discouraging look into the future, some of them are still looking forward to improve these conditions whilst others have already given up, giving way to the vicious cycle where ignorance and poor quality of life dwells. Hence,  young people are living in chaos where there is no proper guidance for them, somehow they may look for a way to find themselves but with the wrong tools and anyone, besides the parents, that try to help them will find a wall between them, for the kids will be at a defensive state after their educative deficiency. The future for the kids looks grey when thinking that it may continue this vicious cycle with them re-living the lives of their parents, and contributing in the creation of a society that instead of being healthy, nourished by art, culture and good habits, becomes aggressive, ignorant of their own rights and potential, and hypnotised by the systems that controls them. In my point of view, this movie is reflecting a problematic that is real in several places around the globe, and sometimes, although not so outrageously, it can be seen in communities where the economical problems are not so intense and the interest for knowledge is switching for popularity and social interaction, so it has become a job of utmost importance to look into the paradigms of education and change or improve what be needed, and this job belongs as much to the parents as to the teachers, and in the greater scale to those who are in charge of greater circles of society.

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