90% of ‘187' Is Based on Schoolteachers’ Reality

Scott Yagemann is the screenwriter of "187." He taught for seven years in the San Fernando Valley

In Kenneth Turan’s review of “187" (Calendar, July 30), he says the most disheartening line in the film is the final disclaimer, which states, “a teacher wrote this movie.” I, for one, have to disagree, because I was that teacher. I wrote the screenplay for “187" two years ago out of desperation. When Trevor Garfield (Samuel L. Jackson) enters a classroom and finds that all the textbooks have been thrown out the windows, that’s not fiction. It actually happened to me. In fact, 90% of what you see in “187" either happened to me or to other teachers.

The divisive atmosphere in certain high schools is most definitely real. About three years ago, I had a student threaten to kill me and my family. I had him arrested. About a week later, the district attorney called me out of class to talk to me on the phone. He asked if I would be willing to testify against the student in a court of law. I said “yes,” but was surprised they were pursuing the case. The D.A. told me there were mitigating circumstances--the student had stabbed a teacher’s aide the year before. This young man was in my classroom for 15 weeks, and no one had ever told me that he had stabbed someone. I should have been told.

I have always thought of my screenplay as a wake-up call, like a mirror held up to our school system in an effort to expose its worst elements. Why not paint a more hopeful picture? That has already been done, to no avail. The public school system continues to decline year after year. I wanted to write a cautionary tale about a good man who is destroyed by his environment. A story like this is not always pleasant to watch. But maybe it will get people’s attention. I think it already has.

Frank Capra once said, “Only the daring should make films. And only the morally courageous are worthy of speaking to their fellow man for two hours and in the dark.” What is disheartening to me is when a teacher dares to stand up and speak the truth, and some people don’t believe him.