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Lean on Me film analysis---Marxist Perspective

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michael james

on 7 March 2013

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Transcript of Lean on Me film analysis---Marxist Perspective

Interpretations from the Conflict Theorist Perspective
Michael E. James Jr.
EDLR 608: School and Society Lean on Me Conflict Theory Class Consciousness Final Thoughts... Joe Clark vs. The State, ISA's, and their attempts at establishing hegemony

Many of the previous statements can be seen in the following video clips.
Objectives In an effort to critically analyze the film Lean on Me, I will examine aspects of the movie from the perspective of a Conflict Theorist. Synopsis Morgan Freeman plays the controversial Joe Clark, a tough, harsh principal who is given a seemingly impossible task by Superintendent and old friend, Dr. Frank to reform Eastside High School, in Paterson, NJ.

Eastside High School, considered the worst school in New Jersey, was a hotbed for delinquent kids and drug dealers. Such characteristics were responsible for the State of New Jersey threatening to take control of Eastside away from the local school board.

Joe's challenge throughout the film is to straighten out Eastside in time to get their basic skills tests scores up. On his way to accomplishing said tasks, his dictatorial approach and strategies push many of his staff and members of the community away; much to the displeasure of the powerful opposition. "Derived from Marxist scholarship, conflict theorists believe that the driving force in complex societies is the unending struggle between different groups to hold power and status." (Feinberg & Soltis, 2009, p. 41).

The schools play an instrumental role in making sure that the privileged class remain the benefactor of social reproduction of the economic and political status quo, giving way to the illusion of opportunity, equality, and neutrality (Feinberg & Soltis, 2009, p. 41).

The following video clip does an excellent job highlighting the aforementioned. In the end, all of Mr. Clark's efforts and unconventional methods for gaining student, staff, and community compliance pay off as the students of Eastside High demonstrate proficiency on the Basic Skills Assessment.

By achieving such results, Joe shows us that even as one person we still have the power to effect change in the thoughts and actions of others on a large scale. In addition, this film does a great job of presenting the sociological obstacles that are hurdled in the process. Points of Discussion 1) What is Conflict Theory?
2) The lack of Class Consciousness among the Student Culture.
3) Joe Clark vs. The State, ISA's, and their efforts to induce Hegemony throughout the student and community culture.
4) Final Thoughts Class consciousness refers to the beliefs that a group of people hold regarding their economic rank within society as a whole, the structure, and the interests of their class.
Midway through the film, a heated argument ensues between the principal, Joe Clark, and the superintendent, Dr. Napier after he receives the local newspaper slandering the name and efforts Joe. The majority of the argument is based on Joe's unorthodox way of gaining compliance from students and adults alike, which has resulted in a strong disdain for his policies.
Throughout the film, we see a large sector of the student body engaging in acts counterproductive to the overall interests of the class at-large (educators, administrators, community members, etc.), suggesting a lack of class consciousness (Feinberg & Soltis, 2009, p. 47).
Through his unorthodox methods, Joe is trying to elicit himself as a spokesperson for the class through the school medium. During the exchange between Joe and Frank, we hear Marxist-like thinking from Mr. Clark relative to the suppressing strongholds resulting from classism.
At the beginning of the film, Joe makes a critical, controversial, move in expelling the "hoodlums" of the school; the first step in Mr. Clark's attempt to restore class consciousness among the students.
The state serves a crucial role in facilitating hegemony among non-ruling class members. This form of thinking is evident when "the dominant class is successful in establishing its own mode of thinking among most members of the subordinate class (Feinberg & Soltis, 2009, p. 47)." "Through the courts, the police, and the army, the state maintains a monopoly on repressive powers. The repressive features of the state are those that involve force, or the threat of force and that can be used whenever there is a direct assault on established property relations."
Toward the end of the film, we observe a scene where a former (expelled) student is let into the school (by an insider, allegedly), and engages in a fight with another student. After a quick briefing from a current student, Mr. Clark rushes to the scene, intervenes, and orders all doors to be chained from the inside. The scene continues with the Fire Marshal along with the media showing up denouncing the principal for chaining up the school doors.
Up to this point in the film, we have encountered suppressive powers indicative of classism, set in motion by the ruling class and capitalist affiliates. By now, the students, faculty, and community are beginning to buy in to Mr. Clark's vision and ultimately, develop class consciousness as a result of his efforts. So, what does the ruling class do to curtail his efforts? They arrest him for chaining the school doors days before the test, while the media is present to use any footage to portray in him in a negative light. They also use the Newspaper as another medium of communication to depict Mr. Clark as a tyrannical bully, in hopes of fueling the animosity toward him by members of the class.
1) Feinberg, W., & Soltis J.F. (2009). School and Society. New York, NY: Teachers College Press
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