The Medias Portrayal of Low Income Students

When I first started this project, I already had thoughts in my heads about how low income students are being portrayed in pop culture media. My thoughts were that low income students were seen as helpless and did not want to accept the reality of their situations. What I discovered through my analysis and my pop culture media pieces was that there were patterns of how low income students were being portrayed and their willingness to accept help. Patterns such as being a minority, living in the “ghetto”, going to a school that was in a bad neighborhood/environment, and being a “hard head”.

What I discovered in the media was that there was always help being given to these students. I’m certain that pop culture media has a vision for the audience to see that these students are all of low income but there is always some help that will be there to guide them. All that needs to happen is those that are in need of help need to be willing to accept it. With two of the pop culture medias that I am analyzing, you will be able to see that there are students that make it hard to accept help, however, with my third media it can be seen that help was wanted and appreciated.

Freedom Writers:

freedomwritersThe first piece of pop culture that I analyzed was a movie produced in 2007, The Freedom Writers. This movie is about a white teacher who comes in to teach a Freshmen English class at Wilson High school in Long Beach, California. This school is a diverse school and the class she is teaching has students of violent and abusive backgrounds. These students are all of minorities; African American, Asian, and Latino (however, there is one caucasian kid).

The New York Times did a review on this movie and called them “extraordinary young people1”. These young kids in the movie have all different kinds of stories. There is a African American girl who goes to school and takes care of her sister, feeds her and helps her with homework. While her mom and dad are constantly doing drugs and fighting with one another. There are kids that are dealing drugs and are in gangs. Kids that are homeless. All of these students that are in this class come from low-income families that can not afford to be there for their families and thus they compromise themselves with drugs, gangs, etc.

Actress Hillary Swank, who plays the teacher in this movie, really encourages the students to open up and realize that they are useful in society and they have a much better path that they can take. Once I began to analyze her role in the film, I realized that she was the help that these students needed. The media portrays these kids as “hard headed” and at first they do not accept the help from her and do not want anything to do with her.


Referring back to my initial thoughts on students not wanting to accept the help, as the film progresses it becomes clear that these students begin to realize that they need to accept it to benefit themselves.


Once they begin to realize that there is so much more to life that they have not seen these students begin to do better in school and better for their community. The help that was given was a dedicated teacher who did everything in her power to ensure that these students are safe and successful.

Dangerous Minds:



This piece that I am choosing to also analyze is similar to the film Freedom Writers. This film is called Dangerous Minds. The teacher in this movie, LouAnne Johnson, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, takes a teaching position at a school with mostly African American Students and Latina/o students who come from low income families and racially segregated neighborhoods that are full of drugs and gangs. These students give her a hard time at first. They do not want to accept the help that she wanted to offer to them. The New York Times review on this movie talked about her connections with the students and how at one scene she offers to take them out to eat and how she makes one phone calls and just helping them solve there problems2. She has offered a helping hand and eventually these students give in and take that hand and accept the help. One scene in the film as a parent that comes to talk to Ms. Johnson and calls her out on giving her kid all these assignments and calling it useless because she is not trying to raise a doctor or lawyer. However, Ms. Johnson never gives up she continues to fight for the students and help them. The kind of background that these students are coming from at home reflect how they do in school and what they want to strive to be and how successful they want to be. These students if they wanted, they accepted the help. 

Once again, referring back to my initial thoughts. It was true that these students refused the help at first and did not want to listen but eventually they are giving in. There’s a patter that is seen that the pop culture media wants their audience to see the attitudes that the low income students are giving and the hard working teacher that is passionate about her students and then that eventually leading to the students success. It’s a pattern that can be seen in the Freedom Writers and Dangerous Minds.

Ellen Degeneres:

ellendegeneresThis piece that I am choosing to analyze is different from my past two. This is a segment from the Ellen Degeneres Show. Ellen is known to help a lot of people out when they are in need or when they have done something good. A lot of those that need help get a surprise from her. This particular segment is about teachers at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Frayser Memphis, Tennessee. This school is home to low income families that has this program that walks their students home because many of their students do walk home alone. These students have aspirations to go to college and want the help. This is a difference than how both the films Freedom Writers and Dangerous Minds portray students of low income. These kids in this segment want to go to college and aspire to be lawyers, teachers, chefs, etc. Also, a difference is that these students are willing to take the help right away because they know that this help that Ellen is giving to them will truly be helpful for them.


When it comes to pop culture movies, the audience can see that the pattern that I mentioned earlier, students being difficult to accept the help. However, it differs in tv shows such as the Ellen Degeneres Show. This is where my point of help needing to be wanted is wrong because here it can be seen that these students want the help and are asking for the help.


Pop culture has been portraying students of low income in several different ways. Hollywood, as seen from my first two analyzes, likes to portray students of low income having difficult life in gangs, drugs, homelessness, etc. The pop culture media from Hollywood likes to portray there characters as not wanting to accept help from anybody and being very difficult at first and finally easing into it. However, in reality and present time it seems as though these stereotypes do not define the student and the student definitely does not want it defining them (as seen in the Ellen Degeneres segment). Not all minorities undergo these struggles, they defeat the odd and accept the help around them.

Learning Moments:

One learning moment that I really found interesting during this course was during week 4: The Influence of Advertising. This unit was very interesting to me and it made me realize how much pop culture has shifted to fit into society. I pointed out in our blog post that the axe commercial had a shift of “attitude”. Professor Daneen had given us an advertisement video from axe that sexualized girls. There new commercials did not sexualize girls and instead made men feel more confident with themselves using their products. Pop culture media has been evolving with our everyday culture and our shifts in attitudes.

Another learning moment for me was when we had a discussion prompt about the history of advertisement. We had the opportunity to pick any advertisement that we wanted to and analyze it. When reading all of my peers evaluation on their ad and why they chose it and what the ad was trying to convince, it made me realize yet again pop culture is evolving. Most of these advertisements chosen by my peers were recently made. The ads are for a big audience not just for a single individual group. Pop culture media has influenced many of us with their persuasiveness and imagery their videos. It makes me realize that pop culture media plays a huge part in our lives because we value what is being put out there in the media or the world that we describe as our culture.


[1] Dargis, Manohla. “Freedom Writers – Hilary Swank – Movie – Review – The New …” The New York Times, 5 Jan. 2007. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.

[2]  Maslin, Janet. “Movie Review – – FILM REVIEW; If Teacher Is Pfeiffer, Can …” The New York Times, 11 Aug. 1995. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.













3 thoughts on “The Medias Portrayal of Low Income Students

  1. Excellent job analyzing this portrayal with your examples! There is quite a bit of variety among sorts of people like low income students. I find the process in Freedom Writers interesting where the students begin to appreciate Ms. G’s help which was a process. There are students out there that do appropriate the help they receive from their mentors and educators.

  2. I really enjoyed your paper, as someone who is a low income student, I understand that there is a stereotype of what the “needy” student looks like. I didn’t personally come from an unsafe neighborhood or family, but that doesn’t mean that my financial needs were always met. I really liked how you included the freedom writers as one of your artifacts. I always thought that it was interesting that its a ” inspiring” move yet there’s so much settlty in the way they portray the stereotypes of what a “needy” student is. I also found it interesting that it portrays the students of color being hopelessly lost, until their white teacher comes to save them. Overall great paper, I enjoyed your argument and point of view.

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