‘Abbott Elementary’s Latest Episode Doesn’t Address Its Biggest Problem


Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for Season 3 Episode 9 of Abbott Elementary.

The Big Picture

  • Episode 9 of
    Abbott Elementary
    humorously addresses AI generators, deviating from real educational issues.
  • The focus on AI writing in the episode fails to tackle essential concerns, emphasizing personal impact instead.
  • Abbott Elementary
    misses the mark on discussing AI in education, using humor and personal relationships as the main focus.

Abbott Elementary focuses on the lives of teachers working for a largely overlooked elementary school in Philadelphia. With the ineffective principal, Ava (Janelle James), and an apathetic school board, the teachers face plenty of problems as they attempt to educate and care for their students. Because of the setting, Abbott Elementary is uniquely able to address real issues, especially regarding education, and often does so. With creative problem-solving, resourcefulness, and determination, the teachers of Abbott Elementary advocate for their students continuously. Discussing everything from the issues underfunded schools face to the importance of ensuring that children with disabilities get the help they need, the series does not shy away from difficult topics, but the latest addition to the list left something to be desired.

Diving into the issue of AI generators, Abbott Elementary takes the focus away from the technology’s growing and problematic role in education to center on the teachers’ lives. This hilarious plot shows coworkers using it to avoid responding to emails and hurting feelings in the process. While it makes for a good episode, it doesn’t address the issue. The impact AI writing can have on a friendship is far different from what it does for education. AI may be relevant now, but not for the issues that Abbott Elementry addressed. While the story is amusing, it only loosely pertains to the discussion surrounding AI, showing teachers making excuses for using them rather than focusing on the real issue they present.

Abbott Elementary

A workplace comedy centered around a group of dedicated teachers – and an oblivious principal – in a Philadelphia public school where, despite the odds stacked against them, they are determined to help their students succeed in life.

Release Date
December 7, 2021

Main Genre


What Role Does AI Writing Play in ‘Abbott Elementary’?

In Season 3, Episode 9, “Alex,” the series discusses AI generators and how they are used to avoid work, but it is not the focus of the episode. The installment centers on Janine’s (Quinta Brunson) new job opportunity and her and Gregory’s (Tyler James Williams) concern about a student not attending class. But, while they deal with that, there is different drama going on among the teachers. The B plot shows Jacob’s (Chris Perfetti) AI detection lesson, revealing that, though his students are doing their work, his coworker’s kind responses to his emails are not written by them at all. Barbara (Sheryl Lee Ralph) and Melissa (Lisa Ann Walter) use AI to respond to Jacob’s many long emails, but when their secret comes out, they don’t regret it. Instead, Barbara and Melissa paint it as a kind act because otherwise, he wouldn’t get any responses. However, Jacob is hurt and angered by their deceit, causing an argument.

While Barbara and Melissa try to explain themselves and reconcile with Jacob, the plot takes an ironic turn. The janitor, Mr. Johnson (William Stanford Davis), sends out a long email about spring cleaning, and Jacob, short on time, uses AI to respond. However, Barbara and Melissa take the time to write a response, which they wouldn’t do for Jacob. Once at the other end of the issue, Jacob realizes that he overreacted and agrees to send fewer emails in exchange for genuine responses, resolving the issue with little incident.

‘Abbott Elementary’ Doesn’t Address the Real Issue With AI-Generated Writing

While AI technology becomes more difficult to distinguish, it presents a real problem for educators whose students could try to use it instead of doing the work themselves, but that is not what the plot explores. Instead, the series makes it into a joke where, for a long time, Jacob cannot distinguish the responses from what his friends would actually say. The show begins strongly by putting the teachers in a student’s situation by having them avoid responsibilities and using this software instead, but the two circumstances are very different. The role reversal could have been an interesting way to tackle the topic, but Abbott Elementary fails to make the situation compatible.

The show focuses on the emotional impact of AI on relationships, not education. While Barbara, Melissa, and Jacob use AI writing to avoid work, it is a very different situation. Jacob believed he was building stronger friendships with his coworkers, but the truth takes that away, angering him. The plot focuses on how Jacob, as the wronged party, feels. However, that concept doesn’t apply to students using AI. The way it is discussed is detrimental to the real arguments against AI in educational settings.

Barbara and Melissa excuse their actions because Jacob’s emails are long and boring. Never are the characters remorseful for taking credit for work they did not do. Instead, they only seem to care because of how it hurts Jacob. This reaction seemingly justifies similar arguments when it does not pertain to a personal relationship, like when it comes to avoiding boring homework. And in the end, Jacob takes the blame because he sends too many emails. Cheating to avoid work is not excusable because of frequency, even if it isn’t in an educational setting. Abbott Elementary fails to address the real issues surrounding AI, and how the show discusses it is fairly problematic.


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This Episode of ‘Abbott Elementary’ Has Another Focus in Episode 9

Tyler James Williams, Quinta Brunson, and Mason Renfro in Abbott Elementary Season 3, Episode 9
Image via ABC

Though the episode does not dive into the larger issues surrounding AI, it focuses on a different problem. As reflected in the title, the main plot is about Janine and Gregory visiting a student who has not been attending class and pressing the importance of showing up to school. As any college student who got too comfortable skipping class can tell you, you must be present to learn. Though attendance is not a new issue, like AI, it is essential for education. AI was never the intended focus of the episode, which explains why it became a joke rather than a real discussion, but the topic should have been handled with more care.

AI is a relevant topic of conversation at the moment, especially as it pertains to education. With the setting, it’s natural that Abbott Elementary would include this issue, but the story did not focus on the real problems of the topic. The plot is hilarious in exposing the characters’ hypocrisy, with both Barbara and Melissa doing what would be unacceptable from a student and Jacob doing the same thing to Mr. Johnson that made him angry in the first place. However, the story does not bring up the important points. On the surface, this is a fun B plot, but it is mostly irrelevant to the actual issue.

Abbott Elementary airs Wednesdays on ABC and is available to stream next day on Hulu in the U.S.



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