School’s Cool: A Confliction of Two 80’s Movies

There are two movies from the late-1980’s that I’ve been thinking about recently. They are Stand and Deliver (1988) and Lean on Me (1989). Both are based on true stories, and both are set in inner-city schools and involve troubled youths.

I’m sure the movies are not exactly like the real-life events, but I’m just going with what the movies portrayed.

In Stand and Deliver, we have Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos), a teacher at a Los Angeles high school. In Lean on Me, we have Joe Clark (Morgan Freeman), the principal at a Paterson high school.

Both men cared a great deal about their students, though they were both quite ruthless and demanding. I don’t doubt that this was true of the real-life Escalante and Clark. I respect and admire their efforts to encourage and push their students to achieve better lives than the ones they seemed destined for.

But there is something in Stand and Deliver that I have a problem with and never quite understood. One of Escalante’s students wanted to be an auto-mechanic. Escalante strongly disapproved of this, to the point that he was bullying the student. He seemed to be implying that auto-mechanics are losers and that the student was seeking a dead-end career.

That was strange to me. Isn’t it enough that the student had a goal? What’s wrong with being an auto-mechanic? Who’s going to fix your car when it breaks down, Escalante, if you’re shaming people for considering a career as an auto-mechanic?

Meanwhile, on the other side of the nation, a girl at Joe Clark’s school is mad because the vice principal said she cannot take the auto shop class that she really wants to take. When Joe Clark hears this, he immediately writes a note and tells the girl to take it to the vice principal, adding “You know how much auto-mechanics make? $17 an hour.”