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Saturday, January 07, 2017

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

I showed my sixth-graders Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, and though it was solidly directed toward the tween set, I may have liked it more than they did. It's not a great movie by any shakes, but it has amusing moments and most of all it takes a stance on some of the education controversies existing today.

Directed by Steve Carr, and based on one of James Patterson's gazillion books, the film is about Rafe (Griffin Gluck), a very creative boy who has a problem with authority. He's been kicked out of a couple of schools and is starting a new middle school. Problem: the principal is martinet with an absurd amount of rules who cares nothing about the kids except their scores on a standardized test.

The principal, Andy Daly, catches Gluck drawing a mean-spirited cartoon and throws away his whole notebook, which contains many of his drawings. He vows revenge, and in a bit of a maudlin but poignant twist, is guided by his brother, who happens to be dead. He's not a ghost, just an imaginary friend.

Gluck's plan is to break every single rule in the student code of conduct book. He has a friend in the school AV nerd (who of course without her glasses is stunning) and his sister. A subplot that is funny but unbelievable is that his mother (Lauren Graham) is dating a narcissistic pig (Rob Riggle) who wants to send Gluck to military school and is obsessed with animal print furniture and bought a sports car even though he can't drive a stick. There's just no way a woman with as much sense as Graham wouldn't see right through a guy like that.

The film, through satire, comes down pointedly against standardized tests. Daly's toadying assistant principal, Retta, put its it: "Teach to the test, not the kids," an attitude that any teacher worth his or her salt is disgusted by. Of course, these tests are a reality, created by a government who knows nothing about what goes on in a classroom or what children, especially in poor neighborhoods, goes through everyday.

I think most children of middle school age will like it (and I think most people will agree that those years are the worst of your life) but I recommend this film more for teachers and administrators and those that think standardized testing makes any sense at all. It doesn't.

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