BHS: Showing Movies in Class

Nov 1999

My child reported that her class watched the Disney movie "Hercules" in their 7th grade English/History class @ King Middle School. I inquired if the movie was shown in the context of other translations or tellings of the greek myth. "No," was her reply. While I have not seen the Disney picture, I have read reviews lambasting Disney's transformation of the myth for its own ends. This has otherwise been my impression of Disney product, which I consider to be a 20th century artifact. While it is true and interesting that any interpretation of history is colored by the perspective of the scholar and his/her time, I find it very disturbing that this film was presented to children studying ancient Greece, without any other reference material (e.g. Bullfinch's Mythology), or larger discussion about perspective in the study of history. Not having been in the classroom myself, perhaps I am unnecessarily alarmed, and the relevance of primary sources, and issues of alteration of source material and creative inspiration from that material have been, or will be, addressed. (These are precisely the issues raised by the recent Morris biography, "Dutch".) However, I wonder if, in our interest to reach the kids with material that seems relevant and contemporary to them, we have not abandoned the study of history/classics entirely, for the consumption of popular culture. I would prefer a reading selected from one of many available translations of the Odyssey, or one of the classic Greek tragedies. These are examples of incredible storytelling and/or melodrama, still relevant today, provided that the language in the edition used makes the content accessible. It is the content, rather than the language, that has been pre-digested, when Disney is selected for the syllabus. What are the reactions of other parents?

Get this! My daughter was shown the movie "Something about Mary" in Biology on "Free Day". A parent complained (I wonder why? I also wonder which part had to do with Biology as we see fit to teach in school that is). Since a parent complained, the next "Free Day" they were shown "Little Mermaid". What is going on over there??? Was this perhaps marine biology and the previous movie related to Sex Ed? How is it that they are showing movies in school and how is it that a teacher can show an R rated movie to a child under 17?

I encourage all parents to complain to the head of the dept. when an inappropriate movie is shown in class. Of course, that is subjective, so , as a blanket rule, no 'R' movies should be shown. Yes, many 'R' movies are ok to some parents but we can't judge it on a case by case basis. (After all, most high school kids are under 17. ) I complained vigorously when the "underground" Jerry Springer tape was shown in a free day Science class and the dept chair seemed grateful to have the information. If we don't tell them, they don't know!

My son has just reminded me that the teacher who showed the movie "Something about Mary" in class (refer to complaints about this in a previous newsletter) also happens to be a very highly recommended biology teacher at Berkeley High School. You can see numerous recommendations for him at recommend/schools/BHS/teachers
Therefore, I would like to offer the following comments:
1. Do I think "Something about Mary" is appropriate for *all* high school students? No
2. Do I think it's a hilarious movie? Yes
3. Am I upset that it was shown in class? No, given that 1) this is one of the great teachers at BHS and 2) this teacher makes his students work VERY hard and in return gives them small breaks like movies. I think we should all cut Mr. Panashenko some slack and give him some leeway about how he conducts his class. He seems to be an excellent teacher and I for one am grateful for the effect he's had this year on my child.

There's definitely two problems here: what's considered appropriate educational material and who gets to determine this. I hope that there's some departmental overview of lesson plans which include inappropriate material. I personally agree that parental permission should be asked for by the school whenever any R-rated movies or explicit lyrics or programs are proposed. I'd like to know what controls are in place.

This has always amazed me within BUSD and has been a problem throughout my son's student career, but especially in Jr. High & High School. My son has been shown R-rated movies and trashy comedies in class since 7th grade and teachers treated me like I was from another planet when I complained. I did not give permission for my son to attend the R-rated version of Othello trip with his 7th grade class, but even that at least had a literary purpose (unlike Murphy's "Nutty Professor" which was shown for an 8th grade Drama class)! Movies made up most of his writing class in BHS summer school - "But Mom, we watch the movie to inspire us to write!" When they didn't have movies, they were listening to rap ("Mom, they PLAY them for us in SCHOOL so you should let me buy the explicit lyrics CDs!"), again for inspiration. I saw very little written work come back. I think my son learned not to say anything after that, because I haven't heard much about movies shown in the regular classes.