Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Handout: Max Bickford

I am tired...long, satisfying semester. But late April in Moo-land is, well, brain fry time. We had a good discussion of the TV series The Education of Max Bickford tonight. I have pasted in the handout. Colleen Gabauer, who is defending her dissertation on Friday at Rochester, titled "Campus Politics and the College Novel," gave a nice presentation on it, and I will have to ask if I can post her handout.

But here is my modest handout...g'night...

Higher Education in Film and Fiction

The Education of Max Bickford (CBS): A television series from the 2001-2002 season, Bickford lasted one year. It stars Richard Dreyfuss as the title character, a history professor at fictional Chadwick College, a women’s college in the East. Max Bickford is a widower; his wife died 5 years before, and he is raising two children, a daughter Nell who goes to Chadwick, and a younger teen son, Lester.

I had to hunt to find an episode to show you. The series is not available on DVD, and I could not get it from CBS headquarters. I found on Google contact information for several professors who had done a panel on the show at an academic conference. A history professor from Alfred University in upstate New York taped the episode you will watch tonight, and gave me a copy.

Marcia Gay Harden (who also starred in Mona Lisa Smile as Nancy Abbey, the etiquette teacher who befriends the Julia Roberts character) plays a fellow professor, Andrea Haskell, and Regina Taylor plays the college president, Judith Hackett Bryant. Both have key roles in the episode we will watch. (Trivia: David McCallum, who played Ilya Kuryakin on the Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV series in the 60s, blast from the past, has a recurring guest role as fellow professor Walter Thornhill).

The episode is titled “A Very Great Man” and originally aired on December 2, 2001. Here is a plot summary:

A student with extremely conservative political beliefs brings up charges against Andrea for the liberal bias she believes Andrea has against her in class, and Chadwick's mother/daughter weekend heightens Nell's feelings of loss regarding her late mother.

Historical figure Daniel Ellsberg makes a cameo appearance as himself, a guest lecturer discussing his role regarding the Pentagon Papers and the Vietnam War.

After Andrea kicks the conservative student, Ana, out of Ellsberg's lecture for heckling him, Ana decides to lodge the official complaint against Andrea -- stating that Andrea's liberal views have affected the way she treats her and grades her. Although she is at first aghast at the charges, Andrea soon begins to wonder if her disgust for Ana's views has, in fact, influenced how she grades Ana's work. Meanwhile, feeling the need to remember and connect with her mother, Nell is especially troubled to learn that Max has started a relationship with Lyla.

(AGR adds): Another plot strand involves Max’s son, Lester, and the controversy surrounding his class report on Abraham Lincoln.

Questions and Topics to Consider

1 Max is disturbed by what he sees as bias in the history text his son is assigned. Comment on Max’s reaction, and discuss the role of textbooks in today’s teaching.

2 Comment upon the exchange between Ana, the conservative student, and the college president, Judith Bryant. Should Ana have sought out the president regarding her complaint?

3 Ana and Professor Andrea Haskell argue about whether Ana has been taught or indoctrinated. Comment.

4 Why does Max believe that he “killed” Abraham Lincoln as a hero?

5 Do you find the show to be a convincing portrayal of college life?

6 Given that you have only perhaps seen this episode, venture some thoughts on why this show was cancelled after only one season.

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