ABC TV’S Abbott Elementary” helps viewers laugh and learn

The following column originally appeared in a number of APG of East Central, Minnesota newspapers during March, 2022.

ABC TV’s “Abbott Elementary” helps viewers laugh and learn

A new ABC TV show brings two valuable things to viewers: laughter and nuance.

“Abbott Elementary” is perhaps the first major network series featuring mostly African-American educators, along with white ones, who reflect what’s happening in many urban public schools. But whether you live in a suburban, rural or urban area, you’ll find it deeply entertaining and exceptionally useful.

Photo Courtesy of ABC TV

 

Millions agree. According to a press report, “Abbott” is attracting up to 9 million viewers per episode. That makes it, among viewers age 18-49, “ABC’s strongest comedy telecast of new or returning series in nearly two years, since the April 8, 2020 series finale of ‘Modern Family.’”

See story here.

St. Louis Park Public School teacher and Minnesota Teacher of the Year Lee-Ann Stephens loves the show. She told me, “Abbott Elementary moves away from the ‘White Saviorism’ narrative that we often see in shows/movies about education, where there is a lone hero/heroine. As a Black educator I appreciate that the series is written by a Black woman and features a majority Black cast and I can identify with the characters. I feel represented. I am able to enjoy the humor and the intended foibles, but also recognize the reality of teaching in a school with limited resources, yet creating opportunities for the students without pitying them.”

 

Qorsho Hassan, another Minnesota State Teacher of the Year who works in suburban ISD 196 (Apple Valley, Rosemount, Eagan) district, explained to me: “I’ve never connected to a show like this before because I truly see myself represented by Janine. She is refreshingly honest, innovative, and does so much with so little, like many educators in my field. The show also accurately portrays what it’s like for a Black educator to teach and impact their community.”

Hassan hopes the show “facilitates more conversations (and action) about the lived experiences of Black educators and students.”

Written by Quinta Brunson, who’s also one of the main characters, the show mixes humor with episodes showing strengths and shortcomings of public education.

Hassan also told me, “It’s by no means a perfect portrayal of teaching,”

I agree. Veteran teacher, principal and Stanford University professor Larry Cuban believes “the principal is portrayed as a stereotypical self-absorbed, managerial type… a school administrator (not a leader).”

However, in recent episodes, the principal has become more nuanced and helpful. For example, she creates a video that brings in many supplies for students.

Equally important, in response to teachers’ frustrations, some recent reforms send more money, authority and responsibility to school-level educators. I hope the show explores these in the future.

Former Philadelphia public school teacher, now Rutgers University professor, Lynnette Mawhinney wrote an enthusiastic commentaryhttps://tinyurl.com/mvfmcwjk

Stephens agreed: “There are so many lessons that can be gleaned from this show. Lessons of racial identity, Black culture, authenticity and recognizing that uncomfortable moments invite growth.”

“Abbott Elementary” has a Facebook Page.

Some of the best television produces laughter and learning. This program does both. Strongly recommended.

 

Joe Nathan has been a Minnesota public school educator and PTA president,  He directs the Center for School Change.  Reactions welcome, joe@centerforschoolchange.org