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Porn and social studies... Man, homeworks going to be WEIRD.

February 8, 2010

When I was in high school, teachers sometimes used films to highlight points in science, English, and history classes. We’d read a short story, then watch an adaptation of it and try and find the differences, discuss its themes, and otherwise enjoy the lesson more because the lesson came alive. Even the kids who didn’t like to read could participate, though not as well, as the ones who read. Science films let us see our lessons instead of just reading about them, and in a world where multimedia now applies to everything we do, it’s really the next logical step in education. Films are a new tool.

And every new tool needs a determined opposition. Click on the image to go to the story.

If you skip the link, here’s the deal. Council Rock high school students are protesting a movement led by several parents to ban the use of R-rated movies for educational purposes. The school uses films such as Schindler’s List, Merchant of Venice and Saving Private Ryan to supplement lessons, and the district already has a policy that allows parents to not give permission for their children to see the films. Some, however, say that this creates an unequal playing field and R-rated movies should be banned completely.

Said one concerned parent, “Do we not have filters on our computers? These movies are potentially harmful to our children…I can’t help but think that these things will have an effect on our children. There are many other school districts in the area that have excellent educational programs that do not allow Rated R films to be shown. So why do we?”

Oh the children. Who will speak for them?

Several hundred high school students have signed petitions asking the school board to not proceed with the ban, but as of this writing, no action has been taken.

Yeah, because high school is already such wonderful preparation for the real world, right?

There are really two issues at work here. First of all, do these movies enhance the learning experience? Secondly, are these movies harmful?

Let’s talk about the second issue first. Are movies harmful? The parent who gave the above quote seems to think so. How is a movie harmful? Will it teach children that certain kinds of behavior are acceptable? That really depends on the individual movie. One of the movies referenced is Saving Private Ryan. It’s bloody, violent, and features scenes during one of the most far-reaching wars of the last century. High school students won’t see these images of men getting cut down by machine gun fire and suddenly come to the realization that they too must get a fifty-caliber machine-gun and go PCP-monkey-crazy on someone.

These are the kids that play GTA, remember? This is the Modern Warfare generation. They know what it’s like to see someone get shot in a FICTIONAL account because THEY’RE the ones doing the shooting. They may be desensitized, a by-product of society taking a much more lax view of violence, but they aren’t going to suddenly see the Battle of Normandy and get some insight into violent behavior. At best they’ll realize that these kinds of things actually happen, that real people have suffered in wars, and maybe they’ll get a certain respect for the men and women that actually put a uniform on then put their lives on the line. Besides, if a student can see history, even a recreation of it, it makes the lesson much more real.

Movie ratings are a knotted affair, so all I’ll say is that an R-rating is not the harsh stamp many people think it means. The MPAA says:

An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously. Children under 17 are not allowed to attend R-rated motion pictures unaccompanied by a parent or adult guardian. Parents are strongly urged to find out more about R-rated motion pictures in determining their suitability for their children.

An R-rating doesn’t mean much concrete information. What, may I ask, is an “adult activity” and an “adult theme”? I guess showing people working in a cubicle farm would be considered an adult activity. Is menopause an adult theme? Not a lot of teenage girls with inactive reproductive systems. And what exactly does “hard language” mean? If I use the word “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis,” I think most people would consider that hard language. I can barely pronounce it. The rating, as many other people much more highly qualified than me have said, is highly subjective and open to debate. It’s, at best, a highly imperfect gauge of a film’s content and themes. Furthermore, the argument that we have filters on our computers and should use the same kind of logic when shielding students misses one very crucial point. YOU set the filters. You can put them up, lessen them, increase them to eleven, whatever. But it’s YOUR choice.

This brings us to the second point. Everyone learns differently. Some people are visual learners and others need to read information. Some learn by hearing. In a class, I try to use as many senses as possible. Pictures, diagrams, charts, hands-on activities with groups, anything to get the kids motivated. I’m sorry, but high school students need a swift kick in the pants. They can be… well, dense.

I’m sorry, but I loved my students and I wanted them all to succeed, but I’m a realist. I know not all of them will pass. I know it. They know it.

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If there were movies that actually taught English and writing, I would have shown them. The sad thing is that parents, according to the article, didn’t say much other than the movies were inappropriate and they might hurt the students.

How?

How does a movie hurt a 14-18 year-old? Does the DVD jump out of the case and slit someone’s throat?

The movies work. The students themselves, the ones being “affected” by these images, are the ones who are lobbying to keep them. They’re saying the tool works, and yet some parents still want to take them away based on the fear of the hypothetical student hearing a naughty word or otherwise seeing something bad.

Next they’ll be dancing!

I’m speaking as a teacher, tutor, and writer. If a tool works, we need it. We’ve coddled the students in this country so much that you can actually pass high school without doing any work. Seriously. The United Independent School District in Laredo, Texas, will pass students for the sake of moving them to another level on the theory that they’re not going to pass their current grade level, so they should try in the next one. In this way, a student who never passes a single gradel can graduate high school without any comprehensive reading, writing, reasoning, mathematics, or even study skills. Budgets get slashed and teachers have their hands tied by bureaucracy and the ignorance of a few paranoid parents.

If I’d had the time and resources to show movies, I would have done so if I felt the movie would contribute to the lesson. You can’t discount any strategy when you’re trying to teach. If you need to bring hand-puppets and do voices, do it. Learning is a skill. Many people don’t have it. Teachers need to pick up the slack and use whatever means possible to make sure the students retain knowledge. Movies are one such tool. It’s not like the district was showing Showgirls or Battlefield Earth.

Now THAT would be a crime.

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