Pop culture has a real tendency to oversell the idea that one dynamic teacher can change a child’s entire life. But if it’s supposed to be correcting for that tendency, Glee‘s gone from being a realistic show about low teacher pay and school budget cuts to a fairly naked expression of contempt for educators.
Take last night’s episode. First, we learn that far from being the dedicated Spanish teacher we were lead to believe Will Schuester was, he’s actually an incompetent racist. He’s so bad at the language he’s supposed to be teaching that it’s embarrassing, and he only signs up for remedial classes when he has a shot at getting tenure that would make him feel more secure about marrying Emma. Will’s understanding of the culture he’s supposed to be contextualizing limited to mariachi hats, ponchos, and bullfighters—Santana’s ethering of his lack of interest and commitment unless he has a chance for self-aggrandizement was eminently deserved, even if Will had to stick around long past when he should have been fired, if these skills are any indication. It’s been clear for a long time that Will isn’t particularly interested in teaching, whether he’s spending all his time auditioning for a musical or enlisting the glee club to spend a huge amount of time to choreograph his proposal rather than working on anything relevant to their education or after-school activities. But there’s something really gross about how terrible he is at his job and how little he’s cared about that for three years. Blowing off your primary responsibilities to your students in favor of after school activities isn’t cute or evidence of passion.
And Will’s not alone. Emma spends most of the episode passing out flyers with taglines that should get her fired: even in the cause of getting kids to pay important issues, there is never a situation where it’s okay to call kids as two-timing hos or use words like “taint” with them. And yet, she’s rewarded with tenure by the end of the episode. Not that I believe Glee is governed by logic or anything, but the only way to interpret that in any coherent way is that McKinley High rewards incompetence and the tenure system is hopelessly rigged to protect teachers who would otherwise be fired. It’s like Michelle Rhee wrote this episode or something.
There are a few bright spots. Crazy Sue Sylvester, bless her, actually takes feedback seriously (and the show would be smart to pair her with NeNe Leakes, giving Sue some space to be less of a cartoon villain) when she knows it comes from a place of genuine investment in the Cheerios’ excellence. Ricky Martin single-handedly made the case for immigration reform, bilingual education, and passion in teaching, which I’d be stirred by if I didn’t think those excellent points and the hunk of handsome delivering them were going to sink below a tidal wave of dreadful. But Glee’s reached a truly impressive point: it hates its characters, it appears to hate us, and it’s coasting along believing it can convince us not its contempt for everything from coherence to public educators.