Jo Keroes's scope is wide: she examines the teacher as represented in fiction and film in works ranging from the twelfth-century letters of Abelard and Heloise to contemporary films such as Dangerous Minds and Educating Rita. And from the twelfth through the twentieth century, Keroes shows, the teaching encounter is essentially erotic.
Tracing the roots of eros from cultural as well as psychological perspectives, Keroes defines erotic in terms broader than the merely sexual. She analyzes ways in which teachers serve as convenient figures on whom to map conflicts about gender, power, and desire. To show how portrayals of men and women differ, she examines pairs of texts, using a film or a novel with a woman protagonist (Up the Down Staircase, for example) as counterpoint to one featuring a male teacher (Blackboard Jungle) or The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie balanced against Dead Poets Society.
The portrayals of teachers, like all images a culture presents of itself, reveal much about our private and social selves. Keroes points out authentic accounts of authoritative women teachers who are admired and respected by colleagues and students alike. Real teachers differ from the stereotypes we see in fiction and film, however. Male teachers are often portrayed as heroes in film and fallibly human in fiction, whereas women in either genre are likely to be monstrous or muddled and are virtually never women of color. Among other things, Keroes demonstrates, the tension between reality and representation reveals society's ambivalence about power in the hands of women.