A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Controversial subject matter at the risk of your job

From this article at educationnews.org:
Ed Youngblood, a 37-year teaching veteran, said he was forced to quit or be fired last week after showing an R-rated movie in his British literature class.... He resigned last Wednesday after complaints over his screening of the 1998 movie "Elizabeth" prompted an investigation....

Youngblood did not follow procedure by using unapproved materials in a class without first gaining permission from the school. Two weeks ago he showed the movie, which carries an R-rating for violence and sexuality, to a class of seniors.... Monday, Gwinnett County Public Schools spokeswoman Sloan Roach said that Youngblood chose to resign when told that an investigation had begun. Youngblood says he was given five minutes to choose between resignation and dismissal.

He said he was told those were his options because a precedent had been set at the school. In 2002, two special education teachers were forced to resign for showing the comedy "History of the World Part I" in class.

... Support is gaining at the school for Youngblood, who retired at the end of the 2004-2005 school year and taught part-time this year.

There is a real risk in showing mature material in one's classroom. My students are constantly talking about this movie or that movie that would perfectly illustrate a point about which we are talking. They then want me to show that movie. My answer is no.

Number one, I do not show videos in my classes. In my school, history teachers have the "joking?" rep of showing movies instead of teaching. If kids want to watch movies, they can do that at home-- and obviously, they have, or they wouldn't bring these films up. I do sometimes use movies for examples when I am teaching, but I simply refer to the scene in question-- I don't spend three days showing a movie.

Number two, I started a women's studies class this year, and whoa! did the stuff hit the fan by ultrauberconservatives on the faculty and the school board who thought I would be teaching man-bashing, bra-burning, and the braiding of armpit-hair, among other things which I do not even want to contemplate. Visions of femi-nazis obviously danced through the heads of Dittoheads some people, although I have received nothing but support from the principal (who suggested this, BTW). But I was called in to the superintendent's office to explain what I was planning to teach, exactly, to signify that I understood the policy for teaching controversial subject matter, and so on. Crikey! All I wanted to do is help young men and women understand the role that gender has played in society... I am actually quite moderate, politically, as anyone who has read this blog can see.

But my point is, you have to be careful about being misunderstood when discussing anything in class.

Having said this, I do find it a bit disingenuous that parents who in no way monitor what their kids are seeing at home squawk over PG movies being shown at school, or R-rated movies to 18-year-old seniors. I mean, I get way more embarassed by some of the gyrations and outfits of the drill team at pep rallies than by some of the material in films that most of my students have seen.

I once walked into my class as it was being used during my planning period by special education teachers teaching an "IEP class." They were showing the movie "Love and Basketball." I nearly had a seizure over the language before I could get out of there. I thought about how my 9th grade English teacher had a habit of deliberately getting behind in the filmstrip of "Romeo and Juliet" so that Romeo's naked butt would flash by on the screen in a nanosecond. She would have stopped breathing over what I saw in ten seconds.

The schools must meet standards that are much higher than that maintained in the general community. This is a matter of practicality, if not of common sense. Nonetheless, I smell a set-up in the "resignation" of Ed Youngblood.


At 11/17/05, 9:38 PM, Blogger Epiphany in Baltimore said...

I showed movies some in my first and second year of teaching, but now simply cannot justify the time. Now, the only movie scene I show is Atticus's speech in To Kill a Mockingbird. I save all movies for an After-School Film Club that the kids love.

At 11/17/05, 10:16 PM, Blogger Polski3 said...

Teachers must think carefully before showing a video.....if there is ANY question that it might cause a problem, forget it. It isn't worth the potential trouble. CYA.

At 11/17/05, 11:41 PM, Blogger Coach Brown said...


Although I don't show very many movies, I disagree that the medium is totally worthless. I agree with Polski that a care must be taken.

At 11/19/05, 3:20 PM, Blogger Smithie said...

Movie clips are good visuals for hammering consepts home. Full length features are tough to justify unless it's "the perfect flick".

At 11/19/05, 4:19 PM, Blogger Fred said...

Our dictrict overreacted to some complaints this year with a new policy. We're only allowed to show PG movies.

The problem? English teachers can't show Romeo & Juliet. So, they're leading the charge to overturn the new rule.

I agree with Polski3, though, it's just not worth it.

At 12/24/05, 2:30 PM, Blogger urbansocrates said...

I love to use film in history classes, mainly to show students how films so often misrepresent history for the purposes of entertainment. There are a couple of films that I almost always show in their entirety: Gallipoli, because is about the only way I know to get many kids to understand WHY so many young men would enlist in WWI and consider the whole thing an honorable, decent endeavor.

I also show The Elephant Man, because I think it raises so many questions about how film tells what is basically a true story.

Films are necessarily misleading, even when they try to be true and objective. Text is, too, but to a lesser extent, because cinema has so many of the tools of the propagandist at its disposal.

A separate course in film study (like the one I took in high school) can be a great thing. It is the medium of our time; there's no avoiding that.

At 5/30/11, 8:49 AM, Anonymous Viagra Free Samples said...

That's ridiculous, what a bunch of moralist people! why they complain so much about this stupid movie.

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