Larry Crowne is a rather predictable romantic comedy. As Tom Hanks said on a television talk show, “I go to school and Julia Roberts is my teacher and guess what happens?” Crowne (Hanks’ character) faces a series of personal challenges, not the least of which is that he was fired from his job. (Without giving too much away), he finds his way to the local community college campus, enrolls in an economics class and a speech class, makes some friends, and navigates through the semester.
I was drawn to the movie for two reasons: I like Hanks’ work and I was intrigued by the community college setting. I have been teaching for three decades; more than half of that time has been at the community college. I love the diversity of students, the intimacy of our class settings, and the mission we carry out each day in our community. Larry Crowne highlighted what is good about our community colleges. A few takeaways include:
- Non-traditional students. This label is almost becoming a cliché. Come to a community college and you will see more than the “traditional” 18-22 year old college student. Much more. In any given term, in any given class, I can have students ranging in age from 18 to 70. I have retired career military; divorced mothers looking for a new start; single parents wanting a way out of where they are; business owners who have seen their businesses close; laid off workers; international students; motivated people wanting to get to the career of their dreams; and recent high school graduates exploring higher education. Larry Crowne was an unemployed worker looking to retool.
- Support groups. One thing that will help students persist in their education is a connection to a support group. It helps if they feel they “belong” and can find comfort and support. Crowne finds that from younger students on campus. I love watching young students interact with students who could be their parents or grandparents. Respect has no age limit.
- Mentoring. This connects to the point above. A mentor is someone with wisdom; a person who can guide us. And age is not necessarily a factor. While Larry Crowne became an inspiration for some of his classmates, he was “mentored” by younger students. We see this all the time on community college campuses.
- Classroom distractions. The movie correctly points out that not every student walks into our classrooms with burning desire. Some sleep in class while others answer–yes, answer–their phones or text messages. It can be quite disheartening. As Roberts’ character says at one point, “I wonder if I make any difference to anyone sitting in my classroom.”
- Teachers do make a difference. As we see from Crowne’s experience, the teacher and the class DO make a huge difference. Whether it is an older student fearful as to whether he can cut it in college or a younger student looking for direction, the classroom can open up a whole new world. It allows students to work on making their dreams become reality.
If there was one thing about the movie that made me cringe a bit, it was the rather one-dimensional view of the classroom instructor. Roberts’ character is portrayed as a bored (taking to drink) character who does not really want to be in the classroom. The one other instructor we see teaching is a lecture-driven economics instructor. I can tell you from years of experience that you will find passionate, animated, and creative teachers who cannot wait to work with the students. I wish at least one of that type would have been portrayed.
Larry Crowne is an entertaining movie. It is a small reminder of what our community colleges can and do accomplish daily.
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© 2011. Steve Piscitelli and Steve Piscitelli’s Blog.