Saturday, February 2, 2013

Why Film Class in High School Wouldn't Work

I think it is great to expose young people to classic and world cinema.  You have to reach them before they know it's boring.  To that end, today's high schools have all sorts of elective classes that students can take.  I was discussing the issue of high school film courses a while back with a friend of mine.  My take on the idea is that it is a bad one.  For starters, class periods are too short to watch movies in their entirety.  Secondly, "movie class" sounds like a blow-off so all the slackers and none of the smart kids would take it.  The content of many classic-- especially world-- movies is questionable to show to teenagers.  The reality of movies in the classroom right now is often a lazy teacher taking a few days off.

To me, the biggest problem is the length of a movie versus the length of a class period.  Let's estimate that the average movie is two hours long and the average class period is forty minutes.  It would take three class periods to finish a movie with a tight schedule.  Am I being too much of a purist?  I've been known to pause a movie so I could take a nap, go to bed, or eat a snack, although I mostly avoid it.  Doing this at home is one thing, but a film course is trying to introduce students to the notion of film as art, so the integrity of the work must be upheld in the academic setting more than any other.  Movies are not miniseries.  They are meant to be watched as wholes.  The setup of college allows for weekly courses with movies being viewed in their entirety.  High school does not.

The other trouble with a film course is that it sounds like "entertainment class" to a bunch of teenagers.  Any notion of film as anything but sheer entertainment has not even crossed the minds of most American teenagers.  Film courses always sound like a blow-off to those who haven't taken them, although in fairness, they sometimes live up to the hype.  Therefore, all the slackers would sign up for the course and none of the smart kids would.  If the class is done right, these slackers will be very disappointed with the assortment of subtitled movies they are treated to.

The last problem is that many great, canonical movies-- especially foreign films-- are not suitable to show to young people.  While I do believe in young people's entertainment not being shallow or dumbed-down, movies in a high school pose a challenge.  Some might claim this is being overly zealous, but I believe that the school should cater to the tastes of the most conservative parents in the class.  Schools are meant to serve parents.  There are so many movies, especially on this blog, that I would recommend in a heartbeat to any adult I know, but I would second-guess most of the movies on this blog when it comes to children and adolescents.  Just looking at, say, the French New Wave, an obligatory lesson in any international film history course, I can't think of a single movie I would definitely recommend for every teenager.

How are movies currently treated in the high school and grade school classroom?  Usually after finishing a long book or play, its worst movie adaptation is shown so the teacher has an excuse to take a few days off, or at least that was how I always perceived it.  A teacher friend of mine claims that movies can make the lessons in class much more clear, especially with things like Shakespeare, but a teacher would say that.

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