The movie McFarland, USA tells the inspiring true story of seven young Latino males and their newcomer coach. As the title describes, the story takes place in McFarland, California, a poor, predominantly Latino town. After being fired from yet another job, Coach Jim White land at McFarland High School as the assistant football coach and life sciences teacher. White initially comes to McFarland with one goal in mind: to find somewhere better and get out. But White’s goal is later changed when he meets seven young and troubled students.
After witnessing a tremendous amount of athletic potential in some of the students, he becomes determined to form a cross country team despite having absolutely no experience with cross country running. One by one, each based on different circumstances, the seven teens are recruited and form McFarland’s very own cross-country team under Coach Jim White’s leadership. After initially struggling, White realizes that the lives of those in McFarland are much different from his and he must, therefore, adapt to their way of their life in order to help them become the championship team he wishes them to be. Through each obstacle, both the students and White learn things about each other that help turn the championship team into a family, and together they all achieve the dreams they never knew they had.
While language does play a big factor, I do not believe it to be the main obstacle covered in this movie, ethnicity is the main educational issue. When Jim and his family arrive in McFarland, California you can immediately tell that they feel completely out of place. While they are not exactly rich, it is so easy to tell that White and his family are used to having more. McFarland is everything that White and his family are not. Most of the people in McFarland are hard-working but struggling Latinos. White discovers that this school neighbors a prison and that many teachers expect their students to end up there. This is due to the way many of the students were raised in Latino culture. While later discovers that many of the students’ parents value work over education and expect the students to have the same priorities.
At the beginning of his time in McFarland, Jim White is unaware of those cultural values and therefore does not understand how to coach his newly formed cross-country team. When the three Diaz siblings quit the team, White is left dumbfounded, until he learns that the reason the students quit is because they did not have time to be on the team due to having to work with their father out in the fields picking every day. Another incident he comes across is when his star runner, Thomas Valles, becomes discouraged about being on the team after his father tells him that books and running are not going to het him anywhere and that working is the only way you can get anywhere in life.
After finding out these things, White realizes that he needs to understand the life and culture of McFarland better in order to properly teach and train his students. In order to keep the Diaz siblings on the team, White goes out to the fields one day to help his students with their grueling work. After witnessing the commitment that Jim White has to his students and their cross-country team, The Diaz siblings are allowed back on the team. Next, White tackles Valles’ problem. At this point, White fully understands that his students truly believe what their parents and culture have taught them: that school is going to get them nowhere and they need to focus on work instead. In order to change this mindset and prove their parents wrong, he spends extra time tutoring the students and coaching them better in order to get them noticed by college scouts at their meets. Slowly over time, the students start to believe that they can be more than their cultural norms state they can be.
They start to believe that they can do more than end up in jail or be pickers for the rest of their lives, and instead can be championship runners and college students. White notices these changes when a fellow teacher reads him an essay written by one of his students. White notices these changes when a fellow teacher reads him an essay written by one of his students that talks about how running has made him feel like anything is possible. Even though Jim White was thrown into a place and culture completely different to his own, he made it his goal to learn how to embrace and understand it in order to help better his students; he achieved that goal in the end by helping his students turn into championship running team and helping them all get into college.
Considering this movie is based on real events, then I would say that yes, it is realistic for today’s educational setting. I would also say yes based on personal experience. From what I have witnessed, many Latinos today still have the mindset that work is the only way to get anywhere in life, and that school is not essential. This mindset is usually passed down onto their kids and that is what causes them to become discouraged in school. However, from personal experience, I can also say that like the movie, all it takes is one person, usually a teacher, to change the mindset and help Latino students succeed in schools. More and more schools are implementing things such as bilingual programs and enforcing a more diverse curriculum to make students feel welcome in schools.
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