Saturday, February 6, 2010

Tom Brown's Hollywood Days

For some reason, my Google reader is pretty empty this morning. Are people out playing in the snow? Have my favorite bloggers lost power?

I have no idea, but I ran across an interesting article about the increasing trend in schools toward punishment. It makes some excellent points about how zero-tolerance policies are not working effectively, not to mention how school searches by outside security guards affect students negatively, particularly in urban areas. It raises serious questions about how power leaves the hands of school administrators and teachers in dealing with the students.

How school reform has changed over generations has been on my mind since I watched the most recent version of Tom Brown's School Days this week. It's the story of an 11 year old boy who transfers mid-term to a rugby school and becomes the target of a bully at a school where the headmaster is seeking reform.

It's amazing how many movie versions there are for this novel. Freddie Bartholomew was in the first one and that was followed by versions in almost every decade. This clip from the first movie gives the background story of the headmaster, Dr. Thomas Arnold, who sets out to rid the school of tyranny in exchange for more freedom. Hmm. Zero tolerance policies and security guards?

The 2005 BBC special had its bleak moments and a much more serious tone, unlike the 1971 version, which seemed to contain a lot of stilted dialogue and affectation.

YouTube also has a clip of the 1951 version. Tom Brown arrives with a perpetually worried look in that version, as well he should if he's read the script. Tom's no sooner off the stage coach than he's greeted by East, another student, who yanks him aside to hide near a tree when Flashman, an upperclassman, walks by. When asked by Tom why East is avoiding Flashman, Tom receives the ominious reply "You'll find out."

In the 2005 version, Stephen Fry plays the headmaster, Dr. Thomas Arnold. Although he wants to get rid of the bullying, he winds up playing the bully himself in a scene where he raps the knuckles of a student for lying, when the boy is telling the truth. And when Tom tries to handle things himself with the bullying, it all goes awry. Poor Tom gets beaten, berated and even burned.

Tom and East have a victory over Flashman and robust Tom miraculously heals from all of it. In the end, Tom is appointed by the headmaster to watch out for a frail new student, George Arthur, who is, in turn, bullied with tragic consequences by Flashman.

It's curtains for well-connected and wealthy Flashman, who is sent down in a scene akin to "don't let the door hit you on the way out" by the father of a girl he impregnated. (But have no fear, he comes back to life again in George MacDonald Fraser's book named Flashman. )

As for Tom, he becomes close to Dr. Arnold and the 1940 version ends with Brown going off to Oxford and the headmaster ill.

The movie ends with the caretaker saying "Funny thing, sir. Boys come and boys go, but we go on forever" followed by an image of the headmaster's gravestone which just goes to show that headmasters come and go too, as do reforms of all kinds. And bullies. And adolescence itself.

Not to mention movie versions. Ah, Hollywood.


Matthew Smith said...

I've always thought that "zero tolerance" policies were an unimaginative way of looking tough just for the sake of it. It's the sort of thing that brings about nonsense like girls being punished for being "caught" with period pain relievers because "they are drugs", like there is any equivalence between ibuprofen and cocaine. This was going on way back in the 1990s.

Also, I should note that Rugby is the name of the school and Thomas Arnold was a famous reforming headmaster; it's an English "public school", i.e. an elite private school, near to the town of the same name. The sport originated at the school, although it has enthusiasts of all social classes nowadays, particularly in Wales.

FridaWrites said...

I read that book years ago(it's on my shelf).

It is scary how much power security officers and even principals and other administrators are given sometimes--not just with the awful ibuprofen case Matthew mentions--hopefully the Supreme Court action acts as a partial preventive there.

Speaking of bullies, sometimes the schools won't do anything. Countless middle school boys were repeatedly raped by other middle-schoolers without the school acting in an adjoining school district (during PE changing time). And at another school near there, the woman who works at the adaptive vehicle place said her son is bullied--*they* were told to pull *their* son out and homeschool him; this is after similar problems at another school. The schools sometimes support the bullies (as with the rape case--the parents took a while to file charges with the police, who initially didn't want to do anything either).

Our kids are very lucky right now.