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Verb: Michelle Pffeifer


“‘You’re Michelle Pfeiffering this school,’ one teacher tells another, accusingly. It’s a reminder that the real world is no Dangerous Minds, no Mr. Holland’s Opus, no paradigmatic hardscrabble community awaiting an inspiring educator to parachute in with a planeload of self-empowerment.”

I felt it was incredibly important to start out with this quote from Miriam Felton-Dansky’s article about Ike Holter’s play Exit Strategy which centres around “Tumbldn High, a crumbling institution whose low test scores and graduation rates have landed it on a list of schools to be shuttered in June.” Based on Rahm Emmanuel’s decision to close “approximately fifty ‘underutilized’ public schools, displacing thousands of students in primarily African-American and Latino neighborhoods and sending resources to communities that had more of them in the first place,” Exit Strategy, as Felton-Dansky articulates centers around the crumbling school and the relationship those within have to the school.

I think about education a lot. I’m the product of bussing for diversity. I was bussed out every day of my academic career, from kindergarten to senior of high school, from Raleigh, to schools two towns over. These schools had more resources and were located within the wealthier parts of suburban NC, but most importantly lacked ‘diversity,’ to put it lightly. I was bussed out to schools that offered me the resources and education that schools in my community, under 10 minutes away, could not offer me. It was an hour bus ride every day and at every school my bus was colloquially referred to as the ‘black’ bus, because the majority of the kids on my bus were black and Latino. The ‘black’ bus provided most of the people of color for these schools. So, it’s safe to say I think about education a lot.

I’ve come to feel that education is something of a paradox to me. I come across this James Baldwin quote fairly often: “The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.” Most of the time, that is all that is quoted, however, two sentences later Baldwin also said “But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around.  What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society.” Baldwin had a lot to say on education, as well, clearly.

This is where, I meet this Felton-Dansky’s article on Exit Strategy. As much as Holly wood would have you believe that there is alway a Hillary Swank, or a Michelle Pffeifer that steps into underfunded schools and helps the ‘incorrigible’ students attain incredible test scores, the issue of education steps far beyond the benevolent, usually white, passionate instructor. Felton-Dansky’s article touches upon the themes in Exit Strategy that subvert these unfounded notions regarding education. The power of this play, as far as this article is able to convey, lies in what Felton-Dansky addresses at the end of her article: “But it’s to Holter’s credit that he doesn’t try to find redemption for Tumbldn itself. He withholds a happy ending, reminding us that systemic failures are rarely reversible — and that the parachute rarely opens in the end.”


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