October 24, 2013

KLITZMAN: A teachable moment missed on "Glee"

By Robert J.
Klitzman Guest columnist

---- — Having been in the awesome profession of education for 43 years (my entire adult life), I can say with confidence you cannot separate yourself from the tenets of the profession that you love overnight.

At least I know I cannot. As I watch and/or read the daily news and just observe the world around me, I automatically and naturally react to what I observe as it relates to or impacts education. It is with that backdrop that I feel compelled to offer my perspective on the recent episode of the television show “Glee” which dealt with the death of one of the cast members.

Naturally the writers and producers had to find a way to write that character out of the show. How they decided to write him out is my concern.

In full disclosure, I must say that I have not been a regular watcher of “Glee,” usually watching just a few minutes of it, then only on an intermittent basis. “Glee” is based on the many trials and tribulations high school students supposedly face. The target audience is naturally high school students, with the age range expanded somewhat at both ends of the spectrum.

The show just doesn’t work for me, having lived the reality of school life for students every day. I have absolutely no problem with a show dealing with school — I really enjoyed watching Mr. Kotter do his magic in the classroom.

The episode of “Glee” that dealt with the cast member’s death aired in October, while the actual death occurred in July. It is the way the death was handled in the October episode that I struggle with from an educational point of view.

Actor Cory Monteith tragically died of a drug overdose with alcohol also involved in July. That is a well-documented fact. The producers and writers of Glee chose to deal with the character’s death by not addressing the cause or circumstances of the death at all. Rather, the only specific reference to the death was for the character’s sister to say, “How he died is not important, he was my brother.”

This award-winning show had a tremendous opportunity for a big time teachable moment for all of the high school students nationwide to be told, via this show, that drugs kill. Drugs can kill anyone who abuses them. It doesn’t matter if you are rich, poor, young, old, even the star of a television show, as well as people we know in our own family, friends, and classmates.

Teachable moments can come at any time and in many forms. This particular moment would have been an ideal time to drive home the realities of drug abuse. I am sad the opportunity to have some good come out of this horrible situation was missed.

What made this all just a little worse for me were the newscasters who actually praised the writers for the way they handled this touching issue. Why? The death was indeed tragic, senseless, and 100 percent preventable. Why not try to turn that tragedy into something for all viewers to learn from? Why not use this platform to provide a little guidance?

I am one who firmly believes that adults, all of us, need to look for, seek out, and use those teachable moments for our children and young adults. Those in the entertainment business most often let the profit motive – money — dictate how they write plots. Their job is to sell stuff and make lots of money.

We, too, can use the concept of profit motive in dealing with our children. Our profit however is the health, well being, and quality education we must ensure for our children because “Kids Are Our Future!”

Robert J. Klitzman is the former superintendent of Eastern Pulaski Community Schools.