More Moore

Parents in Beaumont, Texas and Knoxville, Tennessee are complaining that their kids are required to watch Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 in English class. In Tennessee:

Cindy Stewart told 6 News Friday, “My step son said last night…his comment was that Michael Moore is a jerk. And I said, ‘Why did you say that?’ And he said, ‘Oh well, we’re watching ‘Fahrenheit 9/11.’ And I said, ‘What?’

Teachers aren’t supposed to show R-rated movies. You’d think there’d also be a rule about using class time to show propaganda films to a captive audience. I can’t think of a good reason to watch any movie in class, unless it’s a Shakespeare play.

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Comments

  1. English class? Perhaps the purpose was to teach them how propaganda is written. No, I didn’t think so either. More likely, the result was to teach them that some adults are self-righteous and can’t tell the difference between unbiased analysis and twattle. Perhaps worse, they do know the difference.

  2. Katherine C says:

    When I was in school, teacher’s always had to send forms home for parents to sign before their kids could watch R rated movies. As for the reasons this might be shown in an English class, well, the only reason I can think of is the one about teaching about propaganda. As for movies in English classes in general, I do think it’s legitimate if it has a role in the curriculum, as in it’s a movie version of something you’ve read, or it’s about an author, but it also seems that many teachers are becoming too dependent on films. But that’s another subject altogether.

  3. “I can’t think of a good reason to watch any movie in class, unless it’s a Shakespeare play.”

    I had to re-read that sentence three times to believe my eyes. The glibness is astonishing. There are entire English classes devoted to film study. There are classes in film literature. “To Kill a Mocking Bird” is widely read in high school classes. The film matches the power of the book.

    I have shown “Teacher’s Pet” to journalism students to look at newsroom gender stereotypes. Films of Ibsen plays and Aristophanes’ plays have as much merit as those of Shakespeare’s plays.

    You need to see propaganda films to analyze them. “The Merchants of Cool” is one of the most effective films I’ve used for helping students see how marketers operate on young people.

    Articulating an anti-movie principle as some kind of education reform illustrates the phrase “studied ignorance.”

  4. Bluemount says:

    When a film is a solid attack on a man release during his campaign for reelection it’s current events and should require equal time for both sides. It’s hard to compete with a popular documentary, but I’ll bet a representative from the GOP would be happy to give it shot. I agree that parents should have signed an approval form before this film was shown to students.

  5. Indeed! Any R-rate flick demands a permission slip. I send one home when I show the classic movie “El Norte” in my Spanish classes. I also send it home enough in advance to allow any parent to preview it beforehand (whether my own copy or their own rental).

  6. I can think of good reasons to show propaganda. How about “It’s an effective tool in portraying a point of view”? How about “It’s important to recognize the creator’s intent”?

    The condemnation of Fahrenheit 9/11 as propaganda has always left me saying “Well, duh!” Of course, propaganda has come to mean any political speech that the term-wielder disagrees with.

    I’m not being facetious when I say that the way I learned American History was propaganda. Same goes for how I learned about money, sex, which cola to imbibe, how to treat my family, and what car to drive.

    As to this film in a high school, I can see the problems. If these teachers didn’t know it was Rated R, then they have policy issues to deal with. But I wouldn’t give them a blanket condemnation just because the film is propaganda. If that was the standard, then no media would be acceptable in the classrooms. And they’d have to get rid of those anti-drug posters in the halls, the pro-reading posters in the library, the pro-health posters in the cafeteria, and so on.

  7. “When a film is a solid attack on a man release during his campaign for reelection it’s current events and should require equal time for both sides.”

    I agree that a teacher should provide multiple viewpoints. In fact, most of Moore’s film consists of video that the networks surpressed or ignored in its own reporting. Simply showing the movie gives “equal time” to the side that the government and major media had studiously excised from its reporting.

    The “R” rating on the film itself was a political act. I heartily agree that every classroom should provide students with multiple viewpoints and multiple sources–and criteria for assessing the quality of their claims and the evidence for those claims.

    The footage of Bush in the film is what it is. If that constitutes an “attack”, then it’s a self-inflicted wound.

  8. Not having seen the film (hey, I’m busy!) I can’t comment on what did or didn’t give it an R Rating, but I can say that it’s pretty damn unlikely that it’s completely due to politics. Hollywood may be overrun with corporate liberalism (a strain even liberals like myself tend to look upon with great distaste), but it’s still liberalism.

    Disney’s decision not to distribute the film may be an example of caving in for political reasons (even though the decision was made long before that decision became an issue), but the ratings board pretty much rubber stamps an R on anything that combines realism and violence. PG-13 only goes to big-budget bullshit without puppet sex.

  9. John L: Your counte-examples seem to mostly be college-level, and, indeed, some of them film-specific classes, not the “class” in question.

    That “class” being “High School English”, not film studies, not film-as-lit, not journalism. High School English. Context, sir.

  10. Ross the Heartless Conservative says:

    Sigivald,

    Well said.

  11. Sigivald, Jon, et.al.

    The NCTE, in its own professional standards (check out #6 at http://www.ncte.org/about/over/standards/110846.htm) is quite explicit about using non print texts, ie movies, tv shows, or any visual text, in classrooms.  Students are faced with having to decode visual texts all around them every day, it’s a terrifically valuable skill.

    Teaching how to view film is exactly what English classrooms are supposed to do. Printed text has lost its dominance as THE medium of information exchange. Many, many messages are sent visually with no text at all, when are kids to learn how to decode them?

  12. Emmett54 wrote:

    >”The NCTE, in its own professional standards (check out #6 at http://www.ncte.org/about/over/standards/110846.htm) is quite explicit about using non print texts, ie movies, tv shows, or any visual text, in classrooms.”

    Since when should parents defer to the NCTE to find out what their kids need to learn in English class?

    >”Teaching how to view film is exactly what English classrooms are supposed to do. Printed text has lost its dominance as THE medium of information exchange. Many, many messages are sent visually with no text at all, when are kids to learn how to decode them?”

    You should print this out and hand it to all parents so they know exactly what their kids are getting for an education. I was actually under the impression that English class focused on reading and writing. Apparently, English class is now just about “information exchange” and decoding messages. So, books and newspapers are just not that important anymore. English class has to teach kids how to decode what they watch on TV or at the movies. As for Moore’s film, wouldn’t it be better to have the kids first READ some BOOKS on history? Then they can do their own decoding. Perhaps you would rather have them watch some TV shows on history. I guess that expecting kids to read books is asking too much.

    Decoding requires knowledge. That is what I want schools to focus on. The decoding will take care of itself. Of course, maybe the answer is that you want to influence what they decode.

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