Thursday, September 6, 2012

My Idea of A Perfect School...

Still feeling like talking about going back to school, I got to thinking today about how....while I don't dislike the job....I do hate the hours (getting up at 5:30 every day BLOWS) and sometimes there are co-workers (read: children) I could do without.  Most of these issues are solved on inservice days, or rather days that we teachers come to work and the students don't.  Usually we have these so we can have important meetings or attend seminars and the district is kind enough to give us work time to accomplish this rather than making us do it on our own time (though I'm sure union contract language has more to do with it than the district's goodwill).  Anyway, we had one of these inservices last week and it was downright delightful.  I didn't have to be at work until 8am, I got to spend time with my co-workers and friends without any student interference, and I didn't have to worry about any of those hoodlums that give me more gray hairs as the days go by.  It got me thinking about one my mother's favorite quotes ever said by a villain..."My idea of a perfect school is one where there are no children at all."  Granted, we weren't supposed to like this character or her ideas...but I gotta say, I think she had something there.  Those days where the school is nothing but faculty and staff are as close to work-place paradise as I've ever gotten.  So it is with some fanfare and a great deal of nostalgia that I bring to you one of the rare films that I love and yet don't yet own...Matilda.

Matilda Wormwood is anything but average.  She was able to spell her own name when she was an infant, she was allowed to take care of herself when she was about three or four, and she has been an avid reader since that same age.  For most parents, these would be sure-fire signs that their little girl was a child prodigy.  However, Harry and Zinnia Wormwood are not most parents.  They are boorish, slovenly, couch-potatoes who encourage dispicable behavior in their son and who treat Matilda's interest in expanding her mind with the sort of attitude one reserves for rashes or warts to be removed.  Matilda begins reading in secret and dreams of going to school, even though her parents aren't interested in sending her there and continue doing cruel things to her.  Things change, however, when Harry Wormwood explains his view of punishment to Matilda..."When a person is bad, he or she should be punished."  He should have said "When a child is bad..." because Matilda, smart as she is, interprets this to mean that children can punish their parents.  Matilda visits a surprisingly effective and hilarious bit of revenge on her parents by using the things they love against them.  However, when the Wormwoods finally do decide to send Matilda to school, Matilda finds she may have met her match in the huge and horrific Miss Trunchbull, the principal of the school and the biggest bully she has ever seen.  In order to overcome Miss Trunchbull's wickedness, Matilda may need to reach deep inside herself and to find a power that she doesn't even realize she has.

Matilda is a darling film based on an equally darling book by Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, among others).  It is a potent work that both challanges us to stand up against bullies while also teaching us to respect the excellence of the mind, where ever it is found.  Matilda's growing abilities represent her growing strength in the face of those who would oppress her and give her the oomph she needs to not allow herself to be oppressed.  Indeed her strength is a great advantage, but her unwillingness to be made to be afraid is her true power.  Conversely, Matilda's parents and Miss Trunchbull represent the worst kind of people...rigid, uneducated, and bigoted.  They are so blinded by their own beliefs and ignorence of people that they can never appreciate anyone for who they are...they can only see them as different and therefore unworthy of the same respect.  They would be rather pitiful people if they weren't also in complete control of the power.  Thankfully our heroine is here to take them down a peg.  Also of note is the character of Miss Honey, Matilda's lovely and thoughtful teacher, who seems to be a grown-up version of the girl but without the acceptional abilities.  She is an image of what Matilda could become if she wasn't given an edge with her mental abilities.  Ironically, she is also Matilda's savior because she encourages Matilda when no one else will and she gives Matilda faith in the rest of the world.  Matilda then saves Miss Honey from her own insecurity and teaches her that she can be strong even without the incredible powers of her little friend.  It is a bizare looking but highly uplifting little fantasy with a lot of heart.   Few fantasy films can show respect for education while also showcasing an imaginative adventure...Matilda manages to do both.

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