Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A Lesson for Educators: Little Rascals in Bored of Education

Recently, I was reminded of a school violence prevention program which I had conducted a few years ago for the Tenafly, New Jersey Public School District faculty and administrators. During the session, I used a video clip from The Little Rascals (Spanky and Our Gang) series.

During my childhood in the 1960's, The Little Rascals was televised each day after school and was a favorite not only for my generation but for many others as well. The fact that it was recognizable to the various ages of educators at this in-service day was evident in the almost uncontrollable laughter that could be heard throughout the clip.

The clip entitled, "Bored of Education," was almost never made but ironically went on to be the only "Our Gang" adventure to win an Academy Award.

It begins "With vacation over, thousands of smiling, happy children return to school." But the opening scene shows Spanky, Buckwheat and Alfalfa very unhappy and fake a toothache for Alfalfa in order to play hooky. Meanwhile, the beautiful new teacher, Miss Lawrence, overhears their scheme and, as a gifted educator, decides to teach them an important lesson. She sends both of them home, Spanky being directed to accompany Alfalfa because of the seriousness of his toothache. As they are leaving, the ice cream man arrives with a freezer chest full of ice cream for the class.

The scheme turns from deception to instantaneous cure and the teacher asks the pranksters for proof. Alfalfa, always known to be the crooner, must sing "Believe Me if All Those Endearing Young Charms." As he sings a balloon stopper, that he accidentally swallowed earlier, whistles uncontrollably. This leads to the most shocked expressions on the faces of Porky, Buckwheat and Darla.

In an age prior to the Civil Rights Movement, The Little Rascals, which made a total of 221 comedies from 1922-1944, was ahead of its time with respect to diversity. The Our Gang characters were the epitome of affirming and appreciating differences with stars such as Alfalfa, Buckwheat, Darla, Farina, Porky, Scotty and Spanky exemplifying the quality of the American melting pot.

If we pay close attention, The Little Rascals series provides a serious commentary on the ways the culture of American school life has tragically evolved over the years:

  • from papers on the floor to bullets at the door;
  • from playing hooky at the watering hole to violence in the corridor;
  • from the innocence of "Spanky and Our Gang" to the violence of a new gang mentality.
The Little Rascals adventures remind us of the earlier simplicity of school life and the challenges the current culture demands from educators to win the hearts of the youth entrusted to their care. Two examples of dedicated teachers responding to students in need can be found in the movies Freedom Writers and Dangerous Minds.

In Freedom Writers, Erin Gruwell, a first year teacher at Wilson High School in Long Beach, California models the way to respond to contemporary youth. She is able to win their hearts and use lessons learned from The Diary of a Young Girl: Anne Frank and Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Wartime Sarajevo to inspire her students.

In Dangerous Minds, LouAnne Johnson, a retired U.S. Marine, returns to the classroom and is able to transform the hearts of her students through her dedication, determination and affirmation of their own particular gifts and abilities.


About The Little Rascals Click here to visit site
Freedom Writers Foundation Click here to visit site

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