Back To School Advice? Ask Ferris Bueller : Tell Me More Guest blogger Jimi Izrael opens the movie vault for back-to-school lessons.
NPR logo Back To School Advice? Ask Ferris Bueller

Back To School Advice? Ask Ferris Bueller

Parents send kids to school to learn, but students just want to have fun.

Who’s right?

As with most things in life, popular cinema holds the all answers to the conundrum of navigating America’s system of higher learning. So without further ado, here are five great back-to-school films that contain lessons for students ... and parents.

1. Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Matthew Broderick stars as the impetuous lead, a young man who personifies a sense of Reagan era middle-class entitlement. Bueller, as the prototypical hipster smart-ass, has no substantive personality, just a sense that he’ll get by on wit and his parent’s credit cards. He drags his girlfriend and best friend into the shenanigans with him.


Lesson for Students: Cheaters always prosper.

Lesson for Parents: Bad association spoils useful habits.

2. School Daze

Spike Lee’s dramedy about class, color and college education focuses on Laurence Fishburne as Dap and his friends as they try to focus on everything BUT their schoolwork. Ultimately, they realize college costs MONEY, and there will be plenty of time later for their bourgeois protests. School is for learning. This film is widely hailed as the only truly accurate portrayal of life at a historically black university captured on film. Giancarlo Esposito kills it as Julian, a proponent of a new vision of Black Power that’s more about working the system than destroying it. And he advises Dap where to get off with his politics.


Lesson for Students: Da Butt.

Lesson for Parents: THIS is why your child should apply to Brigham Young.

3. Napoleon Dynamite

John Heder is Napoleon Dynamite, a wide-eyed hipster doofus intent on changing the world one high school election at a time. Dynamite unwittingly gives hope to the Democratic and Green Party hopefuls of tomorrow.


Lessons for Students: Don't be above a little jigging to support your politics.

Lessons for Parents: Keep plenty of quesadillas in the freezer.

4. Less Than Zero

Based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel (but just barely), Andrew McCarthy plays Clay, a son of privilege who goes home to Los Angeles on winter break to find the friends he left behind buried in 80s-era decadence. He wants his friends to save themselves in college. They want him to join the party. This film is most noteworthy for Robert Downey Jr.’s epic turn as the very first crack-head on film, Julian. James Spader as Rip, the yuppie dope-boy, is superb.

Lesson for Students: You can pick your nose and pick your friends, but you can’t pick the drugs your friends put up their noses.

Lesson for Parents: Sending you kids away to college is underrated. Send them as far from home as possible.

5. Higher Learning

Screenwriter/Director John Singleton’s dark take on college life takes focuses on the inability of some students to deal with the trauma and culture shock of becoming adults in a socially and racially integrated setting. Singleton’s text wallows in racial strife and message-sending and will make you wanna go to school online.


Lesson for Students: College teaches lessons you have to learn whether you want to or not.

Lesson for Parents: I’m sending you to school for THIS?

Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist for, an author and a regular contributor to "Tell Me More."