Sunday, March 12, 2006

New MCPS Committee Studies the Movie Ban

At the start of the school year my daughter, a senior in high school, told me that her English teacher had said they couldn't watch movies of Othello or Romeo and Juliet in class, because of something having to do with the sex-education curriculum. I emailed the teacher and asked about this, and she told me that certain versions (I forget now which ones, it doesn't matter) could not be shown because they were R-rated, and that it was her understanding that this had something to do with the controversy over the sex-education curriculum.

This morning's Post had a little tidbit:
Since last fall, high school teachers in Montgomery County effectively have been banned from showing R-rated movies such as "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Saving Private Ryan" and "Schindler's List" in classes. Middle school teachers no longer can show movies rated PG-13.

But after complaints from teachers, students and parents, Maryland's largest school system has formed a group to revisit the decision.

The 33-member group is considering whether teachers should be allowed to show the movies as long as parents have signed consent forms or whether clips of R-rated movies should be allowed -- provisions similar to those in place in Fairfax County public schools. WEEK IN REVIEW: March 5-11

Well, that doesn't tell us very much, does it?

NBC4's web site has a more thorough story.
Responding to complaints from teachers, students and parents, Montgomery County school officials are reconsidering a regulation that effectively bans high school teachers from showing R-rated movies in classes.

The school system in January formed a 33-member working group to revisit the decision to use Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) ratings as a guide for what is appropriate to show students. The regulation is even more strict in middle school, where teachers are no longer permitted to show movies rated PG-13.

Betsy Brown, director of the department of curriculum and instruction, said the group is looking at a number of possible changes to the policy. Among them: allowing teachers to show the movies if parents have signed consent forms, or allowing clips of R-rated movies to be shown.

An R rating by the MPAA requires those younger than 17 to have a parent or guardian accompany them to the movie. Educators say some R-rated films -- viewed in a classroom with proper supervision -- can be important teaching tools. Steven Spielberg's Oscar-winning historical dramas "Schindler's List" and "Saving Private Ryan," for example, are both rated R.

The National Council of Teachers of English, which endorses the use of film in English classrooms, said that individual movies should be evaluated on their educational value.

"MPAA ratings are not ratings of education value," said Millie Davis, a spokeswoman for the council. "They don't claim they are, and so for a school district to use them as if they are, is using them in a way that they're not intended to be used."
The regulation has forced many teachers to alter lesson plans. Hilary Gates, who also teaches at Walter Johnson, said the ban means she can't show clips from "Apocalypse Now" to complement a unit on Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." Another high school teacher ended up substituting Disney's "Hercules" for Ridley Scott's "Gladiator."

"There is no gray area," Gates said. "What's really frustrating is that first of all, legally, there are plenty of classes that have all 17-year-old or older students."

The ban, which was approved by senior staff members at the school system's central office in the fall, was not prompted by any parent complaints, Brown said. Rather, officials were looking to offer teachers more uniform guidelines for how they use movies in the classroom.

But some parents said an outright ban did not take into account the reasoned opinions of teachers and students.

"You have to give (students) the tools to make their own judgments, and you have to trust your personnel to make their own judgments," said Eleanor King, the mother of a student at Richard Montgomery High School. "You don't just make a blanket policy that's one-size-fits-all, because it doesn't work." Montgomery Co. Revisits Ban On R-Rated Movies In Classrooms

Nothing here says this decision had anything to do with the sex-ed situation, where a group of extremists sued the school district last year. But who would say this was not one effect of the chill that legal threats put in the air?

Well, at least the district is considering doing the right thing, even if it does have the possibility of stirring up a little controversy. If everybody had to like everything, there wouldn't be anything.


Blogger andrea said...

"Decision made by senior staff" says it all to me. CYA- election time is coming- let's not offend the parents who are scared of everything- the ones who say- My kid can't and yours can't either. Mind you, their kids are just as likely to be seeing Saw, The Ring, The Hills ... but lying about it. I have had kids(total strangers) whose parents wouldn't take them try to get me to escort them into a movie- when I was waiting to see some PG-13 film. I said sorry- but no- get your folks to take you.

And of course, if parents opt out of letting sweet little 16 year old Sally from seeing Romeo and Juliet- then she will feel bad and sad and left out. So your kid can't either.

In the very old days when I went to school, the Philly school system had censored copies of Shakespeare- no Queen Mab speech in MSND and the word "urine" was not in MOV. Some teachers asked us to buy Folger copies- but I am sure some bought into the censorship.

I wonder if our dear dear friend who sent the letter out to schools and is very involved in PABBIS was part of this.

March 13, 2006 9:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem is that the schools are using the Hollywood system instead of good judgment. A PG-13 or R is really meaningless. It usually denotes violence these days. What they don't realize is that a story without bad guys isn't much of a story. Our society is very mixed up about the whole notion of violence. The use of force to combat violence is not violence. The whole key lies in the moral context. By saying all use of force is wrong, which kids instinctively know is not true, they risk corrupting their moral views.

As far as movies with sex, kids will use movie protagonists as role models. Parents want to avoid seductive portrayals of immoral sexual expression. Teachers should exercise much caution here to make sure their selections present a wholesome and healthy image to kids, who, altough they know about sex, are still forming attitudes toward it.

The school system is wrong to use the Hollywood system. Teachers wuth good judgment should be hired and all media selection decisions, whether electronic or print should be reviewed by a committee representing parents, as a check against overly liberal tendencies within the education profession.

Herbert Sherbert

March 14, 2006 10:19 AM  
Blogger andrea said...

Unfortunately, MCPS made a decision to ban without checking with parents. I have seen PG-13 movies that are much more tasteless and offensive than some Rs. I rarely see Rs because of violence but to think that a teacher showed Disney's Hercules instead of Gladiator is really sad.

Romeo and Juliet does have sex between two young people but in their society- death came much earlier as well.

I don't think a committee of parents can oversee every individual selection -if you want to micromanage your child's education- homeschool.

March 14, 2006 3:08 PM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Wow, this is a sore subject for me, though I suspect for reasons that are different than those stated here.

Here in Fort Collins, CO, the Poudre School District has a policy for showing movies in class, but it seems that teachers often violate the rule. It is usually this or that reason (pick your favorite excuse). What bothers me more than even "R" rated movies is how often movies are used to fill instructional time, and on the flimsiest of excuses. This happens with greatest frequency at the end of the school year.

Now, with DVD's it is easier to select a scene that assists students in understanding a certain subject matter.

I guess what I would like to see more than a blanket rule, like no "R" rated movies, is a rule/policy/regulation that requires teachers to justify their use of instructional time to show a movie, or even a selction of a movie. This would help in keeping the focus in education where it belongs, in reading, writing and instructional time.

I let my 16 year old watch the movie "Crash" and I am glad I did. But do I think it should be used as a fill in for rigorous instructional time? Probably not...

Orin Ryssman
Fort Collins, CO

March 15, 2006 7:44 AM  
Blogger andrea said...

Robert, what about PI(I don't know how to get the character for it)- although I thought it was actually about migraines?

Certainly having kids see a good filmed production of a Shakespearean play would be useful -some of these kids will never see Shakespeare again. And hearing Shakespeare read correctly is an eyeopener(okay, it was for me!) I went to a public high school which sent us to see showings of filmed Shakespearean plays in a local movie theater during the school day. I am sure this was some school system/theater collaboration since these were not new films and only HS students could attend-(although the new Romeo and Juliet film(then) at the time was popular- yet controversial - such a young actor and actress- but of course, that was how young R&J really were). I remember coming back from seeing Othello and saying that I thought Iago was jealous because he loved Othello(was it Olivier in blackface?). I got into trouble for saying that-kind of like the CRC now.

March 15, 2006 4:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I don't think a committee of parents can oversee every individual selection -if you want to micromanage your child's education- homeschool."

This is perfectly workable. Most teachers will assign pretty much the same kind of stuff. Just having to go to a committee and justify the purpose might be enough to deter teachers from using this just to kill time.

The biggest problem is that we need to change the common perception that schools are there to babysit kids. If the teachers can't think of constructive activities for the kids, send them home. We have a state minimum for number of school hours to be clocked and then waste time showing movies. Ridiculous.

March 15, 2006 7:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never seen "Beautiful Mind," so I don't know if it would actually help Digger teach math to his students. When I think, though, about a NOVA segment that demonstrated powers of ten by zooming out of a shot near the south Florida coast, I imagine that there could be some really dynamic ways to demonstrate math concepts, especially with the aid of advanced animation.

Andrear is right about using performances of Shakespeare in the classroom. And that is what the movies are - performances. My high school Shakespeare class went to see Twelfth Night and Midsummer Night's Dream at the Folger. I don't think public schools can send students to even one professional stage play any more, much less two in a semester, but the dvds allow the performances to come to the classroom. The performance, and the proper use of the language, makes all the difference in the world.

My daughter had to read "Lord of the Flies" as well as see the movie. The movie was not being offered as an alternative so the students would not have to read. The comparison of the two was in integral part of the instruction. Talented teachers can do amazing stuff with recorded performances in the classroom. It's disrespectful to the teachers and the students to assume that the movies shown in class are just baby-sitting.

March 15, 2006 10:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with all that Shakespeare can't be appreciated unless seen performed and technology has made this possible. A good movie for math class would be "October Sky". It's got that Jake guy from the gay movie. He proves he's innocent of some crime by using trigonometry.

I don't think the other commenter meant that all showing of movies is to use up time. He was just saying it happens- as, undoubtedly, it does. Good teachers can and should use technology to assist education.

Everybody should stop with the cheap shots.

Herbert Sherbet

March 16, 2006 9:09 AM  
Blogger andrea said...

Herbert- your last line- does this include you?

March 16, 2006 1:42 PM  

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