Elementary school teacher Ron Clark leaves his small North Carolina town in search of students whose lives needed guidance elsewhere. Clark finds himself in New York City, tussling with the unruly youths of Harlem whom society has long given up on.
Is It Worth Watching The Ron Clark Story?
I did not expect to enjoy The Ron Clark Story as much as I did.
If anything, The Ron Clark Story is a movie about a teacher coming to the hood and improving the lives of students of color without all of the white savior ego usually wrapped up in these sorts of films.
Although there was clearly a ‘racial’ element in the film (given it was set in Harlem, NY – the former Black Capital of America) that most of the students were (apparently) low-income and “of color” – I don’t think race mattered much at all in the overall theme or messages in the movie.
Growing up, for the most part, I’ve always rolled my eyes at ‘white savior’ teacher movies such as Freedom Writers starring Hilary Swank, or Honey with lead actress Jessica Alba. It’s not even so much the ‘racial components’ of the film or the surface-level suggestion that certain groups of color cannot take care of themselves without intervention – I just found those films to be corny.
Starkly unrealistic to the life I’ve led until now.
Regardless, The Ron Clark Story caught my attention because it almost seemed like the antithesis of the films I mentioned earlier. Sure, Ron Clark is a “white man” from the South who was given credit for saving these inner-city youths (so to speak) but looking back – did he really do all that much?
How Did Ron Clark Change the Lives of His Students?
Ultimately, all Ron Clark did was teach the children discipline, give them a schedule, and allow their creativity room to grow. Many of the children were abused at home, neglected, told to be quiet, or made to be live-in babysitters and grow up faster than they were meant to.
There was a little Indian girl (forgive me for not knowing all of the children’s names) whose home culture was that of women “not speaking while men are talking”. Coming to America, the little girl still was expected to be quiet and abide by her own cultural beliefs.
Another little girl was made to be her mother’s live-in babysitter, who needed to take care of her three younger siblings and prepare dinner while their single mother worked. The single-parent household could be traced back to welfare recipient benefit requirements that a man could not be in the household if that was the case with her family.
Or, maybe the mother slept with a man (or men) who were no good and abandoned the children.
Either way, because the mother had to be gone working all day, she did not have the opportunity to “keep house” and raise her children right – instead relying on the oldest to sacrifice her potential in school to care for the growing family.
Once Ron Clark met with the girl’s mother and shared her potential, the mother paid their actual babysitter more and allowed her elementary school daughter’s formal education to grow.
There was a boy, as well, who enjoyed committing theft. It turns out he was being abused in his foster home and felt neglected. When shown some attention by Ron Clark and allowed to actually express himself and his creativity, he thrived in his school life.
What is the Main Message of The Ron Clark Story?
To be quite honest, the overarching message of The Ron Clark Story would be to communicate with your children.
If the parents of the elementary school children took the time to be involved in their children’s lives and education, their class never would have been at the bottom academically, to begin with.
If even the principal and other faculty members of the Harlem school cared, they would have been able to turn the class around without somebody from outside of their district showing up one day and “making miracles” with ‘problem students’. But, it takes energy to care for students or children in general – especially if they are not of your own blood.
I remember reading something many years ago that stated most children act up in the classroom either because they cannot function emotionally, or because they have some sort of impairment making their development and learning difficult to process.
For instance, if a child is perpetually hungry because they have no food at home – they may act up in class. If a child has vision problems and needs glasses, they may be disruptive because they are too embarrassed to let the teacher know that they cannot see the board.
So while I do commend Ron Clark for turning the lives of his elementary students in Harlem around, ultimately if the children’s parents and community in Harlem cared enough about their development then Ron Clark would have never had a movie commending his service helping underprivileged youth.
Either way, The Ron Clark Story was a fantastic insight into where communities go wrong in raising the next generation of youth and shows how not to prepare them for life.
What did you think about The Ron Clark Story? Tell me your thoughts.
Do you think The Ron Clark Story should be classified as a white savior movie?
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