• en
  • de


  • Educating Frank


    Bernd Käpplinger

    "Educating Rita" (1983) is the undisputed favorite cinematic example of adult education research: rarely has social mobility through education been told in such a multifaceted and entertaining way. In the era of online teaching, it's worth revisiting the film with a focus on the second lead role, alongside Rita, the lecturer Frank, aka Michael Caine.

    “The lecturer was engaging and motivated.” Such probing state­ments are presented to students in feedback forms used for course eva­lua­tions these days. Most of lecturer Frank Bryant’s students of lite­ra­tu­re would probably have given him a scathing eva­lua­ti­on. In the opening scenes of the play “Educating Rita” (1980) by Willy Russell and in the film adap­t­ati­on of the same title by Lewis Gilbert, we encounter a dis­il­lu­sio­ned lecturer with a drinking problem who is bored of his students, dis­in­te­res­ted in their interests, and is initially dis­mis­si­ve of the hunger to learn of Open Uni­ver­si­ty student Susan White, who calls herself Rita. On the one hand, this is merely dra­ma­tur­gi­cal staging to kick-start the trans­for­ma­ti­on of Frank (Michael Caine), who finds new enthu­si­asm for teaching through his con­fron­ta­ti­on with Rita (Julie Walters). On the other hand, the phe­no­me­non of dis­il­lu­si­onment and “inner emi­gra­ti­on” is not exactly rare among teachers in schools, uni­ver­si­ties and further education in the face of strenuous working con­di­ti­ons, high psy­cho­lo­gi­cal stress or improper career choices. Who among us hasn’t met a teacher who you can instantly tell, doesn’t want to teach anymore.

    In the Oscar-nominated film, with the unspeaka­ble German dis­tri­bu­ti­on title “Rita will es wissen” (Rita wants to know), it is shown how important working on rela­ti­ons­hips can be on both sides of the teaching and learning expe­ri­ence. Osten­si­b­ly, Frank teaches Rita English lite­ra­tu­re, and the obvious core motif of the film is Rita’s ascension from lower to middle class through her academic education.

    The fact that the edu­ca­tio­nal work, through the lens of working on rela­ti­ons­hips, also fun­da­ment­al­ly changes Frank, can easily be lost sight of. After various trials and tri­bu­la­ti­ons, Rita graduates from the Open Uni­ver­si­ty (with honors), and entirely new career oppor­tu­nities open up for her. Frank is shipped off to Australia on leave for both pro­fes­sio­nal and personal reasons. Ulti­mate­ly, Rita’s per­sis­tence, appetite for learning and incre­a­sing maturity taught Frank an important lesson and re-motivated him. Indeed, teachers can be lifelong learners too.

    I want to address at least two critical aspects of pedago­gi­cal work and point out current need for action. First, burnout in pedago­gi­cal pro­fes­si­ons is hardly rare. What are edu­ca­tio­nal insti­tu­ti­ons and politics doing to prevent it? In the film, Frank was simply lucky to have run into Rita, yet, coin­ci­dence is no sys­te­ma­tic solution.

    Second, it is incredi­b­ly difficult to achieve social rela­ti­ons­hip work in a digital space. During the Coro­na­vi­rus pandemic, inst­ruc­tors were forced to move to online teaching. Content can be easily shared online and com­mu­ni­ca­ted asyn­chro­nous­ly. However, “real encoun­ters” in the digital space that go beyond social niceties, are equally difficult to achieve. In this respect in par­ti­cu­lar, the pandemic has made it clear just how much digital teaching and learning spaces are reaching their limits — contrary to the market-shrieking promises of IT cor­po­ra­ti­ons and tech start-ups that consider ever­ything to be “digi­ta­liz­ab­le”.

    When we discuss con­ti­nuing education and work 4.0 though, it has to be about more than just content and tech­no­lo­gy, namely about society at large. This too, makes the film “Educating Rita” still worth watching forty years later.

    Bernd Käpplinger is Full Professor of Con­ti­nuing Education at the Justus Liebig Uni­ver­si­ty in Giessen and head of the Adult Education Section within the German Edu­ca­tio­nal Research Asso­cia­ti­on (GERA)

    Educating Rita, UK 1983, Willy Russell, EN mit englischen Untertiteln 

    „I’m gonna take ten years off you!“ Rita (Julie Walters) und Frank (Michael Caine) in Educating Rita, 1983, Filmstill

    Michael Caine in Educating Rita, 1983, Filmstill

    Tags

    Educating Frank

    Bernd Käpplinger

    "Educating Rita" (1983) is the undisputed favorite cinematic example of adult education research: rarely has social mobility through education been told in such a multifaceted and entertaining way. In the era of online teaching, it's worth revisiting the film with a focus on the second lead role, alongside Rita, the lecturer Frank, aka Michael Caine.

    “The lecturer was engaging and motivated.” Such probing state­ments are presented to students in feedback forms used for course eva­lua­tions these days. Most of lecturer Frank Bryant’s students of lite­ra­tu­re would probably have given him a scathing eva­lua­ti­on. In the opening scenes of the play “Educating Rita” (1980) by Willy Russell and in the film adap­t­ati­on of the same title by Lewis Gilbert, we encounter a dis­il­lu­sio­ned lecturer with a drinking problem who is bored of his students, dis­in­te­res­ted in their interests, and is initially dis­mis­si­ve of the hunger to learn of Open Uni­ver­si­ty student Susan White, who calls herself Rita. On the one hand, this is merely dra­ma­tur­gi­cal staging to kick-start the trans­for­ma­ti­on of Frank (Michael Caine), who finds new enthu­si­asm for teaching through his con­fron­ta­ti­on with Rita (Julie Walters). On the other hand, the phe­no­me­non of dis­il­lu­si­onment and “inner emi­gra­ti­on” is not exactly rare among teachers in schools, uni­ver­si­ties and further education in the face of strenuous working con­di­ti­ons, high psy­cho­lo­gi­cal stress or improper career choices. Who among us hasn’t met a teacher who you can instantly tell, doesn’t want to teach anymore.

    In the Oscar-nominated film, with the unspeaka­ble German dis­tri­bu­ti­on title “Rita will es wissen” (Rita wants to know), it is shown how important working on rela­ti­ons­hips can be on both sides of the teaching and learning expe­ri­ence. Osten­si­b­ly, Frank teaches Rita English lite­ra­tu­re, and the obvious core motif of the film is Rita’s ascension from lower to middle class through her academic education.

    The fact that the edu­ca­tio­nal work, through the lens of working on rela­ti­ons­hips, also fun­da­ment­al­ly changes Frank, can easily be lost sight of. After various trials and tri­bu­la­ti­ons, Rita graduates from the Open Uni­ver­si­ty (with honors), and entirely new career oppor­tu­nities open up for her. Frank is shipped off to Australia on leave for both pro­fes­sio­nal and personal reasons. Ulti­mate­ly, Rita’s per­sis­tence, appetite for learning and incre­a­sing maturity taught Frank an important lesson and re-motivated him. Indeed, teachers can be lifelong learners too.

    I want to address at least two critical aspects of pedago­gi­cal work and point out current need for action. First, burnout in pedago­gi­cal pro­fes­si­ons is hardly rare. What are edu­ca­tio­nal insti­tu­ti­ons and politics doing to prevent it? In the film, Frank was simply lucky to have run into Rita, yet, coin­ci­dence is no sys­te­ma­tic solution.

    Second, it is incredi­b­ly difficult to achieve social rela­ti­ons­hip work in a digital space. During the Coro­na­vi­rus pandemic, inst­ruc­tors were forced to move to online teaching. Content can be easily shared online and com­mu­ni­ca­ted asyn­chro­nous­ly. However, “real encoun­ters” in the digital space that go beyond social niceties, are equally difficult to achieve. In this respect in par­ti­cu­lar, the pandemic has made it clear just how much digital teaching and learning spaces are reaching their limits — contrary to the market-shrieking promises of IT cor­po­ra­ti­ons and tech start-ups that consider ever­ything to be “digi­ta­liz­ab­le”.

    When we discuss con­ti­nuing education and work 4.0 though, it has to be about more than just content and tech­no­lo­gy, namely about society at large. This too, makes the film “Educating Rita” still worth watching forty years later.

    Bernd Käpplinger is Full Professor of Con­ti­nuing Education at the Justus Liebig Uni­ver­si­ty in Giessen and head of the Adult Education Section within the German Edu­ca­tio­nal Research Asso­cia­ti­on (GERA)

    Educating Rita, UK 1983, Willy Russell, EN mit englischen Untertiteln

    „I’m gonna take ten years off you!“ Rita (Julie Walters) und Frank (Michael Caine) in Educating Rita, 1983, Filmstill

    Michael Caine in Educating Rita, 1983, Filmstill

    Tags


    Trainspotters’ job interviews

    Train­spot­ters’ job interviews

    Job interviews in feature films are rare. Nevertheless, film history has some special treats in store. From the point of view of public employment services, the interview scene from Trainspotting (1996) by Danny Boyle cannot be surpassed.

    What‘s Work?

    What‘s Work?

    What’s labour? What’s employment? And how have they changed over the centuries? Leading scholars from Europe, the US, China and Africa reflect on these and related questions in a six-part documentary by Gérard Mordillat and Bertrand Rothé, which makes for an outstanding podcast.

    The limits of our imagination of the future: men doing housework!

    The limits of our ima­gi­na­ti­on of the future: men doing housework!

    It is difficult to conceive the future as something open to objective analysis. The future is inevitably intangible. There is, however, one exception: the future of the past. "Past’s futures" such as those manifested in commercials of the 1950s and 1960s reveal many interesting things, for instance the lack of imagination of social change.

    The Future of Work: Science and Science Fiction

    The Future of Work: Science and Science Fiction

    Futurology has long since established itself as a scientific discipline. Why research should not be aversed to borrow from science fiction films becomes evident in the British miniseries Years and Years (2019) by Russell T. Davies.

    THE WALKING MAN

    THE WALKING MAN

    Work ennobles. Work makes life sweeter. Sayings like these apodictically inscribe the principle of work into people's consciousness as the right and good thing to do. When American TV show us an example of this ideal, it is to double-down on the proliferation of the message of ‘a hero of labour’ : James Roberston – the walking man.

    Power Plant Employment

    Power Plant Employment

    Movies and documentaries on reactor disasters were trending last year. 10 years since Fukushima and 35 years since Chernobyl rolled the carpet out. For a true insight into the working world of nuclear power plants, however, I do recommend going further back, to Volker Sattel's "Unter Kontrolle" (2011).

    1 2 3 4 32


    About this blog

    By selecting a film or an image, this blog literally illus­tra­tes the vast sphere of work, employ­ment & education in an open collec­tion of academic, artistic and also anecdotal findings.

    About us

    Konrad Wakol­bin­ger makes docu­men­ta­ry films about work and life. Jörg Mar­ko­witsch does research on education and work. They are both based in Vienna. Infor­ma­ti­on on guest authors can be found in their cor­re­spon­ding articles.

    More about

    Inte­res­ted in more? Find recom­men­da­ti­ons on relevant festivals, film collec­tions and lite­ra­tu­re here.

    About this blog

    With picking a film or an image, this blog literally illus­tra­tes the vast sphere of work, employ­ment & education in an open collec­tion of academic, artistic and also anecdotal findings.

    About us

    Konrad Wakol­bin­ger makes docu­men­ta­ry films about work and life. Jörg Mar­ko­witsch does research on education and work. We both work in Vienna. Infor­ma­ti­on on guest authors can be found in their respec­ti­ve articles.

    More about

    Inte­res­ted in more? Find recom­men­da­ti­ons on relevant festivals, film collec­tions and lite­ra­tu­re here.