“Educational” Movies

From a great LA Times article back in 2000:

Attack of the Public School Time Wasters

July 02, 2000|WILLIAM CHITWOOD |

These tales out of school begin with one about a sixth-grade social studies class at a Burbank public school whose classwork included watching a Dodgers baseball game and the wacky “Bean” movie.

Shortly thereafter, a student at this designated California Distinguished School told me his GATE (gifted and talented) social studies classwork included viewing “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Penn & Teller.” Meanwhile, a student at a Glendale middle school reported that his science class saw the comedy hit “Men in Black.”

Coincidentally, a lawsuit filed this spring by the American Civil Liberties Union cited similar testimony by students as a factor in what it views as substandard education at 18 California schools–including Los Angeles Unified School District campuses–with large minority populations.

Just how routine is this phenomenon? To quote an eighth-grader at one mostly minority middle school: “Lots of teachers show fun movies in class.”

Indeed, the middle school students I tutor from local districts also reported viewing these films for classroom entertainment: “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey” (sixth-grade math); “Blue Streak,” “An Extremely Goofy Movie” and “Tarzan” (seventh-grade physical education and math); “The Little Rascals,” “The Rugrats Movie,” “Star Wars” and “Toy Story 2” (eighth-grade science). I even heard one report of magnet school students watching MTV in math, an unlikely focus of young people gyrating in rap and rock videos.

. . .

Of course, instructors are dutifully advised by administrators (often with a knowing wink) that exhibiting “non-educational” videos in class for entertainment violates education regulations. But because almost anything qualifies these days as “educational” in the public school arena, one need not be too clever to find linkage.

How else to explain these gems that–under orders from tenured “master” teachers–I reluctantly unleashed on students during my substitute teaching days? “Swamp Thing” (science), “NFL Bloopers” (wood shop), “War Games” (math) and “Crocodile Dundee” (English as a Second Language).

“Crocodile Dundee” earned a proverbial thumbs-up from a state-certified ESL instructor. Problem was, the main character has a twangy Australian accent that even some native-born Americans find difficult to follow; moreover, the idiomatic expressions employed are the kind of Hollywood potty-mouth that sends teachers and parents through the roof.


The neophyte Santa Paula instructor who got in hot water this spring for showing students “American Beauty”–replete with sexual activity, generous use of the F-word and recreational drugs–justified her cinematic peregrination by claiming the film touched on poet William Blake’s theme of “self-awareness.”

She was absolutely correct, of course–there has never been in the history of cinema a film that didn’t deal with somebody or other’s self-awareness. Unfortunately, she also violated district policy that bans R-rated films and requires parental and school board approval for others.

No such highfalutin academic pretense for the Burbank students who watched “Incredible Journey,” “Andy Griffith” and “Bean” in class, the students told me. It was simply the week before a school break and their veteran, fully credentialed teachers (who, I noticed, assigned precious little homework during the year) had nothing to teach.

Test prep is looking better and better.

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