Almost 40 years after the documentary "High School" took a no-holds barred look at Philadelphia's Northeast High School, the cameras are coming back to the same locale. But this time it's for a new reality series, featuring actor Tony Danza.
In "Teach," the veteran actor of a number of forgettable 80's shows (maybe you remember "Who's the Boss" but we defy you to remember "The Tony Danza Show") will face a class of 10th graders for a full year. The show's producers insist they've got a serious purpose: to "highlight and celebrate the rarely seen challenges and unsung achievements of one of the greatest resources our nation has to offer: the public school teacher."
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Superintendent Arlene Ackerman are fans. Nutter calls the project a "unique opportunity to highlight many of our city's dedicated teachers, administrators and the talented students they serve."
Every rookie teacher should get the deal Danza's getting. Only students who want to be in his class and agree to be filmed will be there. An experienced certified teacher will co-teach. And we're pretty sure Danza won't be searching for photocopy paper, nor will he be handing in lesson plans. No word yet on whether he'll check homework or grade tests.
Philadelphia Daily News columnist Ronnie Polneczky fears the show will "pimp our kids education to an unemployed sitcom actor who wants to kick-start his stalled career on the backs of students who'll be distracted by cameras and microphones" (see here). While Polneczky has a point, he's missing the big picture. The kids in Danza's class will be in for quite a ride--two teachers, tons of attention, stardom...it most certainly won't be anything like any classroom they've been in before or one that they will ever be in again.
If Philadelphia leaders and TV execs wanted "Teach" to be anything like Frederick Wiseman's "High School" in the sense of exposing some realities of schooling in America, fugedaboutit. Danza's heart seems to be in the right place, and the series could certainly be entertaining. It's just that "Teach" won't tell us a jot about Philadelphia's public high schools or urban high schools across the nation.