What Furious Seven meant to me

HOLLYWOOD (April 1) — Actor Vin Diesel arrives at the premiere of Universal Pictures’ Furious 7 at TCL Chinese Theatre. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: For those looking for a movie review of “Furious Seven,” the latest installment in the “Fast and Furious” series, I encourage you to find the many reviews summarized on Rotten Tomatoes.com. This article isn’t a review but a mapping of the movie’s themes to our public and private schools.

Having seen a few of the movies in the “Fast and Furious” franchise, I can see what actor Vin Diesel meant when he said Furious Seven, now in theaters, might be the one to win an Oscar, despite the Academy’s typical shunning of sequels and action films. The movie touches, amid its high-octane, speed- and heavy armor-driven hyperactivity, on themes of family, loyalty, and, more so, the common goals many of us share with others in our lives. Even people who get into souped-up cars that are most at home on a quarter-mile drag strip share many of these goals. And the ending sequence, a tribute to actor Paul Walker, who died in a car crash before filming was complete, pulls more than a few heart strings.

The plot features two villains, one played by Jason Statham and the other by Djimon Hounsou. These two threaten Dom’s (Diesel) family and create all manner of mayhem in the process—from bombs exploding on front porches in white picket-fence neighborhoods to drones and other military aircraft firing missiles at hot rods during rush hour. Most of the action is par for the course in “Fast and Furious” movies, but the villains aren’t the only threats to normalcy for Dom. Letty, played by Michelle Rodriguez, has amnesia and can’t remember that she’s married to Dom. In fact, she has no memory of anything before 2009.

Car Wars?” she wonders, as Dom tries to jog her memory by taking her back to their old stomping grounds where she participates in a drag race, now in front of hundreds of fans. “Have we been here?

Been here?” Dom replies. “We invented it.

On those lines, the movie pivots. Sure, even combined, they’re no longer than a tweet, as is true for most of the movie’s dialog. But they encapsulate Letty’s condition, a relationship, a movie franchise, and much more. I myself have no idea what makes a movie an Oscar contender, so I’ll leave that discussion to the real movie critics, the ones who had a strong hand in inventing, with their writing, the special effect bonanzas we see here. I’m just a movie lover, and I have no intention of quitting my day job.

I only wish some corporate reformers, who probably care about the education we provide for students but are amateurs when it comes to designing educational programs that work, would see this movie and think about its themes. My job title, in my day job, is “education program specialist.” I specialize in standardized tests, which is another field that’s replete with amateurs: people writing about and sometimes trying to change policies that fit their theories, based mostly on when they were students. They hope those theories will work, but many experts, particularly those who invented standardized tests, are telling them not to quit their day jobs (see this 1999 peer-reviewed article) and to stop trying to tell teachers in our classrooms what to do (see this 2010 report written by Eva Baker, Paul Barton, Linda Darling-Hammond, Edward Haertel, Helen Ladd, Robert Linn, Diane Ravitch, Richard Rothstein, Richard Shavelson, and Lorrie Shepard).

Furthermore, private schools have been innovating for years now. In the Chicago area, it’s often the Catholic schools that rank most highly in terms of the percentages of students sent to college, in terms of sports team championships, and so on. There’s a multitude of reasons for this, but instead of taking the breadth of non-public education into account, charter companies and corporate reformers seem to latch on to one aspect of schooling—discipline, technology, or any other one-dimensional component—and then claim they have found a silver bullet.

It’s all very exciting, the latest big thing, the best new program, just like the Car Wars drag strip in the movie. But everyone playing this game, except for those aforementioned Catholic schools in Chicago or Dom and Letty in the movie, is a pretender, not the real thing, not the original. Sure, they can drive their cars down the quarter-mile track, but somehow, nobody gets it the way Dom and Letty do. And everyone watching the movie knows that. So do education program specialists.

Whether Furious Seven wins an Oscar or not, we appreciate the lessons learned:

(1) Even people who drive souped-up cars have a family.

Even poor kids, black kids, boys, girls, girls who like science, girls who don’t like math, etc., are important to our educational communities. Kids with disabilities, even learning disabilities, whom charters can turn away or remove for minor disciplinary infractions (see New York Times, Feb 12), deserve an opportunity to succeed, to pursue their deeper individual goals in life, whether or not that has anything to do with a test score.

(2) What’s important are those you love who love you back.

We need to emphasize clear communication between families, schools, students, business owners, and other concerned individuals. A dialog must continue, and we must strive to improve that dialog with each sequel in the chain of events. We don’t expect non-teachers to tell teachers what to do any more than we expect newbies to tell Dom how to run a drag race. Teachers know how to manage their classrooms and what they need to teach. But we do expect feedback about whether what they do is working with individual students, just as Dom gets cheers from the fans.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.