This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
Stores may have been proclaiming “Back to School!” since late July, but with September upon us, it really is time for children, teachers, students, lecturers, parent-teacher associations, and anyone else associated with education to go back to school. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of films and TV episodes to watch to get you into an autumnal mood.
There are literally thousands of films and TV episodes about school, and we could only fit a fraction of them in this list. In order to narrow it down, we’ve stuck to fun films or episodes that aren’t too depressing to make you feel good about the new academic year. We’re aware that this rules out a lot of brilliant and classic shows and films, including anything focusing on forbidden romance (no Veronica Mars “Mars vs Mars”), shooting tragedies (no Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “Earshot”), or other tragic deaths (no Dead Poets’ Society). It’s a long slog through the academic year from September, and at this point in time, we want to feel good about it!
We’ve also aimed to choose films or episodes that include at least some plot developments relating to academic aspects of school or university and are not primarily concerned with relationships, purely social activities or sports, though they might be part of the story (so no Fresh Meat, Mean Girls, or Friday Night Lights). Finally, we’ve tried to pick a selection that covers different types of educational institutions from across the UK and US – and of course, in the end, we’ve picked our favorites. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments!
Community – “Beginners’ Pottery”
Educational institution: Community college
Classes today: Beginners’ Pottery and Introduction to Sailing
Teachers: Professor Holly and Professor Slaughter
Star student: Rich
Learning objectives: Learn to work as a team, and recognize your own limits.
Grade: A relatively early episode of Community, this focuses on Jeff’s second attempt to find a “blow-off class” that will get him an easy grade. Between “Goldbum-ing” and trying to avoid “Ghost-ing,” it’s a crash course in early Community meta-humour. Meanwhile, Pierce, Troy, and Shirley learn to sail without water, as you do. There were several episodes of Community, especially in the first season, that focused on actual academic classes of one kind or another rather than social activities – this is one of the funniest. A
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Educational institution: Selective boarding school in the UK
Class today: Potions
Teacher: Severus Snape
Star student: Unexpectedly, Harry Potter
Learning objectives: Improve your potion-making and try to avoid getting murdered.
Grade: The sixth Harry Potter film is the one that really feels like a film set in a school, albeit an unusual one. Sub-plots revolve around the main characters’ romantic problems and feelings for their fellow students, and a major extra-curricular project Harry carries out with the Headmaster. More importantly for this list, one of the film’s most significant plotlines revolves around a mysterious old textbook that helps Harry perform better in Potions class. Granted, there is some major tragedy here that probably should have disqualified it, but despite that it’s also the funniest Harry Potter film for much of its runtime, and the last one to allow us to spend time in Hogwarts before the disruption of the two volumes of Deathly Hallows. Just stop watching before the end! A
Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “School Hard”
Educational institution: High School
Class today: Parents’ Evening
Teacher: Principal Snyder
Star student: Anyone who isn’t Buffy Summers
Learning objectives: Get through Parents’ Evening without being expelled.
Grade: This is a fan favorite early episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as it’s the introduction of beloved Billy Idol wannabe vampire Spike and his goth girlfriend Drusilla. If you’ve never seen Buffy before it’s a great introduction, as it’s basically Die Hard in a school, with vampires.
The educational content revolves around Buffy’s desperate attempts to keep her mother and her headteacher apart and avoid being expelled or grounded, and safe to say she ends up finding an unusual way to impress her mother in the end. A
The Simpsons – “Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Badasssss Song”
Educational institution: Elementary school
Class today: Show-and-tell
Teacher: Principal Seymour Skinner
Star student: Eventually, Bart Simpson
Learning objectives: Understand the need for discipline in elementary school settings.
Grade: It’s easy to forget these days just how brilliant the first ten years or so of The Simpsons really were. The relationship between Bart and his long-suffering educators, Principal Skinner and Ms Krabappel, was the source of some great half hours as all three tended to find they could respect each other as human beings despite Bart’s tendency to make relatively mild mischief. In this half hour, Bart realises that a school run with no discipline doesn’t really work, while Skinner reconnects with his younger, more rebellious self. A+
The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air – “The Ethnic Tip”
Educational institution: Private boys’ high school
Class today: Black History
Teacher: Professor Vivian Banks
Star student: Will Smith
Learning objectives: Explore the depth and complexity of black history in the US, beyond one autobiography and a T-shirt.
Grade: There’s no denying this episode has a clear agenda and a whiff of the “Very Special Episode” about it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a fun instalment in this classic sitcom. Any half hour featuring young, funny Will Smith is going to be a fun half hour, and some agendas are worth pushing. Aunt Viv also represents a very realistic portrayal of a university professor, though her insistence on giving extra work to poor Will and Carlton is somewhat questionable – it’s arguably even more important to educate her privileged white students about black history, since they’re less likely to be familiar with it in the first place. B
School of Rock
Educational institution: Private mixed prep school in the US
Class today: Music
Teacher: Dewey Finn, a.k.a. Mr S
Star student: They’re all stars.
Learning objectives: Learn to be self-confident, stick it to The Man, and play awesome rock music.
Grade: Dead Poets’ Society was ruled out for being too depressing, but if you want a healthy dose of inspirational teaching, School Of Rock should do the trick. Maverick substitute teacher Dewey Finn is the perfect role for Jack Black, combining his comedic skills, musical skills and sheer likeability into the perfect package, and none of the kids are too cloying or irritating. There are a lot of films and TV-shows in the “inspirational teacher” sub-genre, but this one is the most fun by far. A+
Educational institution: New York City high school
Class today: Academic decathlon
Teacher: Mr Harrington, who is somehow repeatedly given permission to take students on field trips despite facing disaster on every single one.
Learning objectives: Persevere with academic extracurricular activities alongside your own personal hobbies, without getting murdered.
Grade: We’ve had an embarrassment of riches when it comes to Spider-Man movies over the last 20 years, including three origin stories, five different Peter Parkers and six different Spiderpeople. Into the Spider-Verse and Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie both featured a fair amount of high school drama, but it’s the Tom Holland-starring Spider-Man films that have really embraced a dual identity as superhero-slash-high-school movies.
Peter Parker’s challenges in Spider-Man: Homecoming don’t just relate to his love life, but also to his attempts to maintain a normal schooling alongside fighting crime in the neighbourhood, and the eventful field trip to Washington, D.C. is one of the highlights of the movie. A
Educational institution: Harvard Law School
Class today: Criminal law
Teachers: Professor Callahan and Professor Stromwell
Star student: Elle Woods
Learning objectives: Stand up for yourself, and think outside the box in order to win your case for your client
Grade: Like another classic chick flick, Dirty Dancing, Legally Blonde has a lot more going on that appears on the pink and glittery surface. When Elle Woods goes to Harvard Law School, she faces snobbery, elitism, sexism and sexual harassment, but with some encouragement, she finds a way to use her own particular talents and interests to become the valedictorian of her class and stand up for herself. If that’s not inspirational, we don’t know what is. A+
Educational institution: Private girls’ high school in the UK
Classes today: PE, and an extra-curricular quiz challenge.
Teacher: Headmistress Miss Camilla Fritton
Star student: Head girl Kelly Jones
Learning objectives: How to carry out effective school fundraising activities by selling moonshine, stealing priceless paintings and running telephone sex lines. Also, how to intimidate the opposing sports team into submission.
Grade: St Trinian’s is a fun, irreverent and distinctly politically incorrect place in all its incarnations, whether comic strip, black and white movies, or the more recent films. The 2007 movie is a blast of fun, a fantasy of school the way we wish it could have been. After all, who hasn’t dreamed about beating up a rival sports team or running a black market business out of the school outbuildings? B
The Inbetweeners – “The Field Trip”
Educational institution: Comprehensive high school in the UK
Classes today: Geography and Sociology (field trip)
Teacher: Mr. Gilbert
Star student: New girl Lauren Harris is far too normal for this lot and leaves again immediately.
Learning objectives: Ask volunteers to complete a series of survey questions, also having sex with one of them if possible.
Grade: The Inbetweeners is crude, silly, and hilarious. This first episode of series 2 eases us into a new school year with some classic field trip hi-jinks, including an authentically dilapidated youth hostel accommodation and a long, boring coach trip. There are some scenes that may feel somewhat uncomfortable for some as one joke is taken rather too far, but that does tend to be in the nature of schlock comedy, and Simon’s watery mishap is quite something. B