Below I have listed episodes from three of my favorite children's cartoon shows: Arthur (PBS), Hey Arnold! (Nickelodeon), and Recess (Disney) which are meant to inspire discussions among future educators, organized by series. I've also included a separate link and some comments at the end about some episodes of The Simpsons which might also be relevant.
I should note that the episode descriptions for the first three series listed below are copied verbatim from the Wikipedia episode list for the series (as of early July 2012); I provide links to these three episode lists. After the description, I have provided a few comments of my own about why I included this on a list of cartoons for future teachers.
Arthur Children's cartoon show on PBS, based on the popular Arthur books by Marc Brown. (Wikipedia: List of Arthur Episodes. Click on the link for an individual season to see the episode descriptions, which I copied in italics below.)
- "Arthur and the True Francine" Muffy and Francine were best friends since second grade, when Muffy was a new student. This episode is a flashback from that time. This particular memory is when Muffy and Francine decide to study together for an upcoming math test, but Muffy continually procrastinates, claiming that she knows her addition and subtraction. When the test day comes, Muffy cheats off of Francine's test and claims that she would never cheat, getting Francine into trouble which almost costs her her friendship with Francine.
My comments: This episode includes cheating, and a punishment meted out to the wrong student which causes strife among the students. Teachers end up having to make tough decisions about cheating all the time.
- "Arthur, World's Greatest Gleeper" Arthur and Buster sit at the only available table with the Tough Customers. Buster claims that Arthur is the world's greatest "gleeper" to stop the teasing, only to find out later that "gleep" means "steal". Arthur lets the lie grow into a school-wide rumor.
My comments: Deals with peer pressure (especially with pressure to be considered "bad" rather than "good"), rumors, and how teachers might respond.
- "Sue Ellen Moves In" Rumors are circulating about the new family that has moved in and Buster thinks that they may be art thieves, spies or aliens, even after he meets Sue Ellen. When Buster's mom invites Sue Ellen over for dinner, he finds out that Sue Ellen is not an alien, but just a kid who has lived in various places around the world.
My comments: A good diversity episode, featuring a new student who seems very strange to the rest of the class.
- "Bully for Binky" Binky has a reputation for being a bully. He bullies Sue Ellen, who is still a new student ("Sue Ellen Moves In"), and she demands that he apologize. When he does not, she challenges him to a fight to settle it. He gets nervous when he finds out she knows Tae Kwon Do. He decides to beat her at music but loses, so he apologizes to her so they would not have to fight.
My comments: An episode on bullying. The bully here (Binky) is interesting because he is in fact a little complicated, even 'though the show does not quite pull the old stereotype about bullies just being "misunderstood". (Binky is actually a pretty interesting character throughout the series, since he's sometimes a bully, and sometimes a pretty decent kid, depending on the context. We're all pretty multi-faceted, I guess.)
- "Arthur's Substitute Teacher Trouble" Mr. Ratburn loses his voice and his sister, Miss Rodentia Ratburn, substitutes for him. She has them doing things such as reciting the one times table, reading words like "dog" and "cat" and assigning no homework. The class are excited at first, as they were sick and tired of Mr. Ratburn's unbelievably difficult classes, but they soon become bored. The class are glad when Mr. Ratburn returns the next day.
My comments: What are reasonable expectations for students, and how will students react? What's too hard? Is it possible to be too easy?
- "Draw!" When Francine offends Fern, Fern draws a comic humiliating Francine, which everyone finds amusing. Other comics about Francine are drawn. During the school carnival, those teasing Francine are convinced by Mrs. McGrady to dump green slime on Francine. As they prepare to do so, they notice how much they hurt Francine. Meanwhile, Miss Tingley tries to avoid Miss Sweetwater and Mr. Haney, both of which want her to take part in their acts.
My comments: An interesting take on teasing and empathy. Here, a bit of bullying goes both directions, and a quiet, shy student ends up leading a pile-on against a more outgoing student. A teacher (in this case, the lunch lady) helps the students awaken their own empathy, and stop the teasing.
- "Sue Ellen and the Brainasaurous" Sue Ellen and the Brain are assigned to work on a project together. The others say it will be easy as Brain does almost all of the work by himself. Sue Ellen wants to help, but the Brain refuses to let her. This turns into a struggle that nearly ruins their project.
My comments: How will students handle group work? Most people have horror stories about groups they were in, and several of the standard problems are on display here.
- "Buster's Breathless" When D.W. has a brush with poison ivy, Buster tells a story about how he once got asthma. When Buster learns he has asthma, his friends start treating him differently, thinking that Buster needed special attention. Buster educates his friends by doing a science project about asthma.
My comments: Nice diversity episode, about Buster trying to deal with the fact that his friends treat him differently after his diagnosis.
- "Prunella's Special Edition" Prunella is excited to get her new monogrammed limited edition Henry Skreever book in the mail, but finds that it is in braille. When Prunella goes to the library to get the book with words, she meets and makes friends with a blind girl named Marina, who is looking for the same book in braille.
My comments: A diversity episode, featuring a new character with a physical disability. (Also as a sidelight, a fun reference to popular children's literature with a book series which has more than a passing resemblance to Harry Potter.)
- "Arthur and Los Vecinos" A new family moves in next to the Reads after their neighbor, Mr. Sipple, moves away. The Reads get to know the Molinas and discover how similar they are.
My comments: A bit of cultural diversity is covered in this episode.
- "The Boy with His Head in the Clouds" George has dyslexia and does not want anyone to think he is dumb. He takes Binky to be his mentor to teach him to be more hard-headed so no one will tease him, but realizes he was not meant for being tough. When he discovers his dyslexic problems, he tries to finish his reading project.
My comments: A diversity episode, involving an ongoing character with dyslexia and some of how he tries to deal with it.
- "Prunella Sees the Light" Prunella is inviting Marina over for a Henry Skreever sleepover. However, she worries that Marina may not see the decoration in her room or may get injured because she is blind. Marina does not approve of the special treatment Prunella is giving her, and Prunella learns to treat Marina just like any other friend.
My comments: A bit of a follow up to "Prunella's Special Edition", focusing on how Prunella tries to decide how to act toward her blind friend.
- "April 9th" [Part 1] It is April 9th, but the school day turns disastrous when a fire destroys the school. Arthur's Dad was in the fire but recovers, but then Arthur then has a nightmare involving the aquarium. Buster is upset that he was not there to experience it. He then meets Mr. Morris, the janitor, who was injured in the fire. Sue Ellen's journal is left behind in the school and is ruined, Muffy however buys a new one for her. The kids are sent to Mighty Mountain, but the fire alarm is pulled during a test.[Part 2] It turned out that Binky pulled the fire alarm because of his fear of the flames. Binky talks to Francine's dad, who was a volunteer firefighter. When Arthur fakes an illness, his dad finds out that Arthur is worried about him because he was trapped in Lakewood during the fire. Arthur's dad helps him that something similar happened when he was a kid and tells that it is his job to worry about Arthur. Sue Ellen and the others paint a mural at the wall of Lakewood. Soon life returns to Lakewood Elementary for the students.
My comments: A full length episode (containing two regular length parts) focusing on students dealing with a tragedy. This is a fairly mild example, featuring a fire that results in few injuries but shuts the school down for a while, but it provides a lot to think and talk about regarding tragedies of any magnitude, which could strike any school.
- "Dear Adil" Arthur writes letters to a Turkish boy who is looking for a pen pal after reading his Dad's letters from Japan. He isn't sure what life is like in Turkey, so to give him an idea, he looks at Buster's comics set in said country. However, these give him a stereotypical picture of Turkey, and Adil is befuddled when Arthur asks him about his camel, tent or the taste of lamb's eyes. Arthur finds in his paper, Adil's email address and they find out that they are alike in many ways.
My comments: A cultural diversity episode.
- "Brain's Shocking Secret" Brain is afraid of the kids learning that he got held back in Kindergarten, and for what reason.
My comments: This episode deals with holding students back for a grade and with psychological and social development.
- "Arthur's Number Nightmare" Buster finds a piece of paper with names of his classmates and numbers beside them. Arthur, Buster, and Francine believe it's a class ranking system based on behavior, and Francine tries to find ways to have a higher rank.
My comments: The episode looks at the possible effects of ranking students.
- "When Carl Met George" George meets a new friend named Carl, who has Asperger syndrome‚ a form of autism. George is unsure about how to act around his new friend, but Brain helps put autism in perspective for him so he can understand some of Carl's mannerisms.
My comments: A diversity episode featuring a new character with Asperger's syndrome.
- "The Wheel Deal" Brain is put in a wheelchair after a leg injury and copes with the encouragement of Lydia, a disabled girl who uses a wheelchair.
My comments: A diversity episode featuring a new character with a physical disability and a permanent character with a temporary physical disability.
- "S.W.E.A.T." The third grade students at Lakewood Elementary are stressing about their upcoming S.W.E.A.T. aptitude tests, including Sue Ellen, who panics that she doesn't have any #2 (HB) pencils, the Brain, who worries he will do badly after he accidentally skips a question on the practice test, and Arthur, who struggles to find a place to study quietly.
My comments: Standardized testing and its effect on students and schools is the subject here.
Hey Arnold! Cartoon series on Nickelodeon, created by Craig Bartlett. (Wikipedia: List of Hey Arnold! Episodes gives the episode descriptions I have copied below.)
- "Tutoring Torvald" Arnold must tutor a 13-year-old fourth grade bully in math.
My comments: There's a bit here on bullies, on students being held back, on students struggling academically, and even peer tutoring.
- "New Teacher" After their last teacher, Mrs. Slovak, retires, Arnold's class gets a new one, Mr. Simmons. They play the usual pranks for all new teachers, which he is familiar with. They don't bother him, but when Harold eats his lunch, he loses all hope of being able to teach them and quits. When Lieutenant Major ends up being their next one, they try to get Mr. Simmons back.
My comments: The hazing of new teachers (and substitutes) is, of course, legendary, but I think the best part is the way the students initially reject Mr. Simmons' unusual and rather touchy-feely approach, but eventually come to grudgingly appreciate him. Students resist change sometimes, even if they might think it's OK in the end.
- "Longest Monday" The kids try to avoid getting thrown in dumpsters and trash cans as part of an annual ritual.
My comments: A hazing ritual. You have to wonder what's wrong with the adults. The ending gives some idea about how these things get perpetuated.
- "Ms. Perfect" Lila, a new student, comes to P.S. 118. Helga and the other girls play tricks on her in an attempt to drive her out of the social hierarchy.
My comments: An exercise in group bullying and piling on focused on a new student, largely unnoticed by the adults.
- "Principal Simmons" Mr. Simmons becomes principal after Principal Wartz has one too many outbursts.My comments: A great episode on the yin and yang of authority, from the overly domineering and explosive Wartz to the walking pushover who is Simmons. Also features one of my favorite lines: "No principal should ever call a small child a 'wicked minded animal'---even if it's true."
- "A Day in the Life of a Classroom" A film crew shoots a documentary of Mr. Simmons' class to be screened on TV, but he feels that they should follow a script, rather than be spontaneous.
My comments: This is a really interesting take on being observed in a classroom, the kind of anxiety that might provoke in a teacher, and the temptation to "put on a show" vs. actually teaching.
- "Phoebe's Little Problem" Phoebe is embarrassed after passing gas into a microphone and is afraid to come back to school, despite Arnold's, Helga's and others' efforts to console her.
My comments: This episode on group teasing and embarrassment shows that sometimes it's really hard to make someone feel any better, but sometimes things do get better eventually.
Recess A cartoon series which aired on the Disney Channel, created by Paul Germain and Joe Ansolabehere. (Wikipedia: List of Recess Episodes gives the episode descriptions I have copied below.)
- "Kids in the Mist" A researcher named Dr. Quilty wants to research by video about recess. When she first tries it, she fails, and T.J. and the gang decide to help her out. How will it turn out?
My comments: This episode should be appealing to future teachers who will study educational research, observe students, and maybe even perform their own studies. (It also slyly suggests that if you're interested in educating children, perhaps it would be a good idea to actually like them.)
- "Gus' Last Stand" Gus stands up to Gelman the bully.
My comments: Not a bad episode about a bully. It includes some ineffective efforts by adults to deal with the problem.
- "Schoolworld" The school gets a new technology system installed called the SAL 3000 which controls everything. This episode loosely parodies 2001: A Space Odyssey.
My comments: A great episode to start a conversation about technology in education, and about rigid, top-down approaches to teaching.
- "The Dude" A school legend, T.J.'s idol, comes back as a teacher.
My comments: A great episode for future teachers, focusing on the tension between having to be the authority figure at the front of the classroom and still feeling like (and wanting to be) "one of the kids." I imagine this hits home particularly hard for student teachers who are coming back to a school they once graduated from.
- "Spinelli's Masterpiece" Spinelli lets off some steam by creating a chalk drawing and T.J. does everything he can to keep Miss Finster from erasing it.
My comments: OK, this is the one episode in the list for which I have trouble explaining why I included. It's a nice take on student creativity and different perspectives, 'though.
- "Bonky Fever" Mikey has problems turning the big 1-0, and still has strange childlike obsessions with the dinosaur character Bonky.
My comments: This one is all about psychological development of students, including the urge to regress to simpler times when things get stressful.
The Simpsons OK, everyone knows what The Simpsons is. The Simpsons Wiki has already put together a list of education related episodes under the Education page, and I've copied that list below. I've added a brief description and a few comments to each episode. (These episode synopses are my much-abbreviated versions.)
- "Bart the Genius" After cheating on a test, Bart is placed in a school for the gifted, but he can't keep up.
Comments: Great scenes on testing near the beginning, plus some fun satire about progressive schools later. (I periodically tell my class to "Discover your desks, people!" in the hopes that someone will recognize the quote.) My only complaint is that I think Bart would have probably done better in the more progressive school. I often wonder why the really good stuff is only offered to the high testing students.
- "Lisa's Substitute" Lisa develops a crush on an extraordinary substitute teacher, who supports and encourages her love of learning.
Comments: Features an impossibly good substitute teacher contrasted with the rest of the school and Lisa's home life.
- "Homer Goes to College" After causing a disaster at the nuclear power plant, Homer is required to take a basic college class on nuclear physics. He approaches the whole experience based on cheesy comedy movies about college.
Comments: While this one has fun with Homer's ideas about college and studying, since it's focused at the college level, there is less here for future public school teachers.
- "The PTA Disbands" Bart helps start a teacher's strike, then tries to end it when his mother ends up subbing in his classroom.
Comments: The scene featuring Krabappel and Skinner debating over funding for the school in front of the town is priceless, and does a great job of capturing all public funding debates. The larger issues of funding, unions, and conflict between administration and teachers are all relevant, and the scenes featuring other Springfield residents trying to sub for the teachers are hilarious. The "solution" reached at the end is priceless.
- "Lisa Gets an 'A'" Lisa discovers the joys of procrastination, and, in a panic, turns to cheating. But when her high score gets the school additional funding, she feels the need to come clean.
Comments: This episode covers cheating, use of student scores to measure school performance, and funding of schools.
- "The President Wore Pearls" Loosely a parody of Evita, with Lisa playing the starring role running for (and winning) as school body president.
Comments: Although a fun episode which does briefly deal with issues of student power and with the cutting of classes like art and music, I'm not sure there's really much here that would generate discussion among future educators.
- "The Monkey Suit" Springfield outlaws the teaching of evolution, and a Scopes-like trial ensues when Lisa is arrested for trying to keep it alive.
Comments: Possibly a fun way to introduce the difficulty science teachers (and others) may have with some topics, including evolution.
- "Girls Just Want to Have Sums" Springfield separates boys and girls math classes, but Lisa finds the "girls" math class unchallenging and sneaks into the boys class.
Comments: Single sex education is a big topic these days, and the way the school handled "girls" and "boys" math classes is indicative of common superficial approaches to closing the gender gap. (And I refer you to this comic, which makes the point perfectly.)
- "Little Girl in the Big Ten" Lisa ends up being mistaken for, then impersonating, a college student.
Comments: There is some good material here about smart students and the problem of "fitting in" with their peers.
- "Bart Gets a 'Z'" Bart conspires to get his teacher fired, then feels guilty. A "hip" young teacher replaces her, making heavy use of technology and entrancing the students with his "coolness."
Comments: There is an opening montage showing Ms. Krabappel getting ready for school which is a priceless (and enormously human) commentary on teacher burnout. The episode spoofs a lot of educational fads centered around overuse of technology, and the "too cool for school" teachers who try too hard to bedazzle their students.