John Hughes: Why he Matters within Today’s Education Conversation

John Hughes

“Technology doesn’t determine the quality of the connection. Only you can do that.”

–           Bill Gates

If you haven’t seen them you should. If you have, you probably see a bit of yourself or someone you know in characters such as Bender, Ferris, Cameron, Ducky and Andie.  From the Breakfast Club to Pretty in Pink, the films either written, directed and/or produced by John Hughes not only defined the marginalized teenage experience of the capitalistic driven 1980s but also speaks to contemporary issues surrounding 21st Century Learning and the importance of school culture and climate – the stories are timeless and provide a true mirror to education today.

In looking at 21st Century Learning, it is important to note that technology plays a supporting role to the individual classroom teacher’s lead in creating learning activities that are authentic and speak to the student experience. Thus, this engagement (making and sustaining personal connection and relevance) can greatly assist in promoting a learning space that is genuinely student centric.  In this space, school culture and the climate become topical realities as the emotional atmosphere of the learning space (along with physical) is as important as curricular learning – ultimately the curriculum doesn’t matter if students are not actively participating in their learning or feel as if they are members of a positive community.

So, as teachers and leaders of learning, it is important for professional reflection on this matter. How do we not only teach but treat the students in what should be considered a shared environment, where “professional” teaching and learning is taking place?  Do you remember the attendance scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off where the monotone teacher impersonally calls out names without paying attention to not only individual faces but importantly the passive bodies that echo indifference. Or  how about the tense and fragmented relationship between the hyper institutionalized Principal in The Breakfast Club, who, through a collective marginalization four distinct “types” of students attempts to construct himself not only as hard lined administrator but the moral conscience of conservative living.  These representations of teaching as disconnected from the real,  speak to the crisis of characters in Hughes’ film and our potential real world classrooms and thus students.

Ferris is the overly intelligent under achiever who seeks real world learning and problem solving, Cameron suffers from a middle-class induced anxiety about his place in the world, Bender is a product of violence  who seeks acceptance and Ducky is trapped in his own awkwardness and yearns to showcase his identity.  These characters are in many ways our students. Thus, it is our moral imperative to recognize that 21st Century learning is not technology driven but importantly a learning experience that ensures that students are collaborators, participants and owners in their learning and that school is not as a place for only assessment but for self growth.

So, where do we begin with all of this – how do we begin to build a positive climate and culture for students like Ferris, Cameron, Bender and Ducky and many others? Simply, it starts with a simply hello and conversation that moves between the formality of the everyday. Only when those positive relationships exist will students move along on a journey with their teacher – only then can we as teachers help them see who they are and can be.

More on the importance of climate, culture and their respective definitions can be found in the report entitled ” The effects of school culture and climate on student  achievement.”


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