An In-Depth Look Into The Blind Side Through Education Psychology Lenses

In the movie The Blind Side by John Lee Hancock, the true story of Michael Oher and his interesting path to NFL stardom help shine light on many topics related to educational psychology. Michael is a 17-year-old African American boy, who comes from a broken home and becomes homeless, who one night gets seen walking around town with just a bag clothes by the Tuohy’s, a white upper-class family. The family decides to take Michael in after Michael tells them his story, and place him in school with their own children at a private school. At first, Michael isn’t the brightest student, but his size and passion for others start to stand out to the Tuohy’ sand other adults such as Miss Sue, who becomes Michael’s school tutor, and Mrs. Boswell, his only teacher that takes him and his work seriously. It is with the help, perseverance, and unwilling to give up attitude of the Tuohy’s, Miss Sue, and Michael that help show this movie is a psychology lenses and shows that when placed in the right situation with people who will support your every move, that impossible becomes possible.

In this movie, the topic of Nature vs Nurture almost becomes the central issue. With Michael coming from a place where he was taken from his mother who was a drug-addict, was in and out of foster homes, many believed that Michael couldn’t be capable of doing any good or even be able to live with a wealthy white family such as the Tuohy’s. They believed Michael’s instincts and beliefs all came from the Nature perspective and that he could only be no good, since his background was no good. This is shown when Mrs. Tuohy goes out with her friends and they talk about how Michael is a “big, black boy” and that he could be a threat to the safety of the family, especially the daughter. But all this statement does is infuriate Mrs. Tuohy and helps push her to be a better mentor and guardian to Michael. To help Nurture him to be the best version of himself possible. The Tuohy’s motives and actions with Michael are grounded in the beliefs that “primary/basic emotions have different functions with respect to survival and reproductive behaviors” (Montag, Hahn, Reuter, Spainath, Davis, Pankseep, 2016). That is was Michael’s need for survival that made him the way he was. He came from a place where his mother was a drug-addict and got separated from her. Was in and out of foster homes. Michael never really had that sense of home or family, and because of that he distanced himself from everyone and acted different. That was the nature in him, as seen when he received a 98% in the protectiveness section of his school’s aptitude test. He cared about people, he just didn’t really have anyone to genuinely care about until the Tuohy’s came along. In Montag and the other researcher’s article, they talk about a “seeking system”. They say this system in every human “energizes human beings and helps them not only to be energized with “enthusiasm” and “interest”, in explorative/investigative way in everyday life” (Montag et al, 2016). This seeking system is most definite in Michael. Once he has that reason to be better and try harder because of the Tuohy’s the many options for him can be seen. He plays football, gets better in school, cares about his new family, but most importantly, became the best version of himself.

When analyzing the Blind Side, glimpses and sprinkles of Vygotsky’s theory can be seen throughout. Vygotsky’s theory is that it isn’t just Michael who plays a role in his learning and development, but it also his caregivers, his peers, his siblings, and his educators who play a role in Michael’s learning and development. In an article written by Irina Verenikina from the University of Wollongong, she talks about how in regards to Vygotsky’s theory that “development is, in this case, co-constructed” (Verenikina, 2010). With this concept of a co-constructed development, the Blind side can be seen in a better light. Without the help of the Tuohy’s, Miss Sue, or Mrs. Boswell, who knows where Michael Oher would have ended up. He was homeless and with no place to go. But when all of these individuals came into Michael’s life and pushed him to be the best version of himself, magical things happened. But rather than just see what Michael accomplished, you have to understand why he wanted to accomplish it and how he did it. It was with the help of “externally mediated activity, actions that involve the use of external means” that allowed Michael to reach his goals (Verenikina, 2010). Michael wanted to make his new family, especially his new little brother S. J. proud. He wanted to be a better person than the environment he came from depicted him as. But he was only able to do this through his own motivation and through the help of others. Without Miss Sue spending countless nights tutoring him and pushing him in education, without Mrs. Tuohy pushing him to be a protector of his new family at home and on the football field, without Mrs. Boswell understanding Michael and pushing him in the classroom, and without Coach Cotton pushing him on the football field, Michael would have never have had those external motivations to do better and better internally. It is very evident through this film that Vygotsky’s theory is what helped Michael Oher transform into the caring, selfless human he became.

Another psychology aspect that plays a vital role in the story of Michael Oher is prejudice and discrimination. Throughout the film, prejudice and discrimination against Michael is seen almost everywhere. From his own mother who talks about how Michael will always come back to her, from the people in his former neighborhood who see Michael as another hood dude with no shot, Mrs. Tuohy’s friends who believe Michael is not safe and can not be trusted, teachers in his school who see him as a not intelligent with no chance of success, a parent at a football game who says very racial and inappropriate slurs towards Michael, a college football investigator who originally believes that the Tuohy’s only helped Michael because of his size. What all of these people have in common is that they never tried to get to know Michael or give him a chance. People seem scared of Michael because of his size and skin color. In an article written by Stuart Oskamp, references “aversive racists are people who sincerely believe themselves to be unprejudiced, but who still harbor some negative feelings towards ethnic minority groups” (Oskamp, 2008). This aversive racism and misunderstanding of Michael comes into a better light when we see where exactly this story takes place, Memphis Tennessee. As many know, the South is well known for its beliefs in the Civil War and how it wanted slavery, and regardless of what others say, that sense of racism can still be seen in the South to this day. That is where this aversive racism drawn upon with regards to Michael. These people I referenced above see Michael as big, black kid who is intimidating from his size and judge him based off the color of his skin. They don’t know Michael or what he is really about because they don’t give him the chance due to their unsubconscious and even subconscious prejudice. They weren’t willing to try and knock down their own personal barriers. It is through the Tuohy’s willingness to take in Michael and get to know him that they were able to knock down the barriers that Michael and even the Tuohy’s have put up. They both became “aware of their interdependence” with each other and reduced “their stereotypic thinking” to nothing (Oskamp, 2008).

While looking at the Blind Side, many might just see a story of a kid who got picked up by a wealthy family and made the best of his circumstances by getting a scholarship for football to the University of Mississippi and eventually was a 1st round draft pick in the NFL. But when you look further into the details of the film and not just the big moments, but especially the little moments in the film, many references to psychology come into play such as Vygotsky’s theory, prejudice and discrimination, and Nature vs Nurture. Without the Tuohy’s, Michael Oher would have never been drafted into the NFL as no one ever gave him a chance or even the light of day. Without Michael, the Tuohy’s would have never been able to knock down their own barriers or get a better understanding of just how important people are in our lives. What this movie really shows is that if you knock down your barriers, help others, and push yourself and others to be the best version possible, that the possibilities are endless and unfathomable dreams can become a reality.

31 October 2020
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