The American teachers agreed: A few months after Strauss wrote her column, the National Union of School Boards announced that “12 Years a Slave” would be sent to the country’s high schools, along with a study guide and The Northup Memoirs of 1853. It was a moment of complete circle for McQueen, who noted that since he first read 12 Years a Slave, “it has been my dream to teach this book in schools.”
Today, McQueen’s dream has grown into some kind of Orwellian nightmare. According to the Chalkbeat website, at least 36 states have introduced or passed laws that make it illegal for teachers to present material to their students that would cause guilt or discomfort about racism or other “divisive concepts.” Regardless of the fact that blacks and other marginalized students have been feeling uncomfortable for decades. Now that white children are likely to question what they have been taught (or have not been taught) about history, privileges and prejudices, it is not just okay, but it is imperative to put emotions first and foremost.
Known as “race theory” or “do not say homosexual” laws, the new measures are vague enough to put teachers on the defensive, lest they run counter to the principal, school board or parent’s idea of what is pedagogically correct. . “It has led us to be extremely careful because we do not want to risk our lives when we are not sure what the rules are,” 10th grade teacher Jen Given told Washington Post reporters Laura Meckler and Hannah Natanson last month. New Hampshire law allows anyone Dissatisfied with a teacher complaining to the state.
Of course, teachers are facing more pressing issues than movies right now, between removing mask commands and dealing with learning loss during the pandemic. But more and more, they will weigh more carefully than ever which books they will commission, which ideas they will consider in their lectures, and – perhaps most critical to the generations of students involved in visual language – which films to screen.
Movies about history and social issues often come with some sort of curriculum, whether it has been created by the studio, or by counselors or entrepreneurial teachers who have found a particular title useful. Recent films such as “Harriet”, “Judas and the Black Messiah” and “The Hate U Give”, along with study guides, have been made available to students for screening, as well as documentaries such as “I Am Not Your Negro” and Stanley Nelson’s.Freedom Riders. » It is doubtful that Nelson’s latest film, Oscar-nominated “Attica,” about the 1971 prison uprising, will have a chance in states where anti-CRT laws have prevailed.
Jackie Bazan, whose company BazanED specializes in helping educators use cinema, notes that a new generation of filmmakers offers a much-needed antidote to conventional — and closed — stories. In many cases, he notes, “history books were written by the oppressors.” Movies, he says, provide valuable alternatives. “It does not matter where you are from or what your background is,” says Bazan. “If you do not think of everything from a multidimensional perspective, then you are hurting our children.”
Educational advisor Sara Wicht, who helped create a study guide to the 2014 Selma drama about the course of 1965 civil rights, notes that films have always been a challenge for the classroom: Daily school curricula are not limited to long running times, even when teachers decide to use clips, they must beware of violent, sexual or obscene content. The advent of social media – where one moment may slip out of context and go viral – has added another career-threatening trap.
However, says Wicht, movies can be a valuable tool for conveying abstract ideas or distant facts into living life. In the case of “Selma”, the students saw people like Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis and Diane Nass not as names in an index but as real-life people “who witnessed this epic era in our history”. The result was an understanding of the medieval civil rights movement that was direct, compassionate and relevant.
“Students do not realize how close we are to the modern civil rights movement,” says Wicht, “and a lot of that has to do with the perception of images.” Learning about Selma’s progress in a color film that “looks like now” instead of granular black-and-white photos or archival news headlines, he says, convinced young students that it is not years and years ago. [They made the connection to] our democracy today “.
Cinema is not just a visual or audio medium. It is also emotional, it pierces the viewers’ consciousness — even their body — in a way that can permanently change their perception and life. This is what makes it so powerful and so threatening to those who would rather ignore the uncomfortable truths and provocative information in favor of triumphant myths that feel good.
As these powerful screen stories are no longer available to millions of students, a unique effective means of animating the story and encouraging critical thinking has been silenced – by young people as well as their communities and the country at large. It’s a dark time, but there is at least one bright spot: Do you know who are even more talented storytellers, audience experts, and creative problem solvers than Hollywood filmmakers? Teachers. And they already understand the next act.
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