Showing films in classrooms is a tried and true way for educators to buy themselves some time. It keeps students engaged with something that’s educational, and it allows the educator to get caught up on their work. Everyone wins. Like most people, I enjoyed my fair share of movies in the classroom, all the way up through my time at Westminster College. Here’s a full list of movies I watched in classrooms.
Donnie Brasco (1997)
Class: Crime, Deviance, and Law
I wrote about this in greater detail last year for a re-watchterpiece theater article. There were two reasons the professor asked us to watch the film. First and foremost, he wanted to illustrate the way in which criminal organizations have unique social norms, mores, and methods for the inculcation of values. This includes language and behavior. Additionally, he wanted us to watch it teach us about “participant observation” and the danger of “going native”, so to speak. If someone wanted to learn a great deal about a certain culture, one way to do so would be to completely immerse themselves into the culture, adopting language, behavior, dress, and moral codes. However, the danger with such a methodology is that the observer may “go native”- the person ceases to be an observer and becomes a very active participant, thereby losing impartiality in any conclusions made about these cultures.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Class: Introduction to Psychology
I watched both of these in high school, at age 17. To be blunt, I’m not even really sure how they specifically pertained to the course. It was almost 20 years ago, so I think I deserve a little slack. My educated guess is that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was related to antiquated psychology treatments- shock treatment. And we probably watched Cool Hand Luke to show the effects of punishment as a motivator. The irony is that even though I don’t remember how either film pertained to the course, they represent the first legitimately good films I ever saw, and I went bananas for both of them. Cuckoo’s Nest made me a Jack Nicholson fan for life, and I had fun with the Christ analogy in Cool Hand Luke.
An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (1962)
Class: Perceptions of Death
The general idea here was to remove some of the taboo about discussing death. If I recall, we watched it the same day that the professor taught us that death is a form of pornography in America (and perhaps other countries), much like sex. It’s taboo to discuss it, and the lack of discussion leads to extreme views of it. The example there would be Faces of Death and the like. Later during that same course, I wrote a paper about death in pop culture, and liberally used Dead Man Walking (1995) as an example, although I didn’t explicitly watch it for that course.
Jean de Florette/Manon des Sources (1986), The Goonies (1985)
Class: High School French
I’d give a specific year but I don’t remember which one it was. Even though The Goonies was an American film, we watched it with French dubbing on. In the case of all of these films, we had a multiple choice worksheet and we had to determine what the characters had said in French based on the English subtitle. Also, we saw boobs in Manon, which was the holy grail for a 16-year old boy to see in a classroom. The teacher had a Polish last name, taught French, and was a native Spaniard. She was the U.N. all rolled into one person. And she was a hell of a teacher.
Where the Red Fern Grows (1974)
Class: 5th Grade
When I was 10 years old, part of our schoolwork included reading Wilson Rawls’ novel, Where the Red Fern Grows. Apparently our teacher wanted to horrify us all- if you’re familiar with the novel, you know how it ends. Think Old Yeller times two. And then to compound our dog-related sadness, she showed us the film to supplement what we had read. Just to clarify- not only did our teacher make us READ about the fates of Old Dan and Little Ann. She made us watch it happen in a movie, too. What an asshole.*
*technically, she was a really nice lady and a pretty good teacher
The Outsiders (1983)
Class: 8th Grade English
One of our reading assignments in 8th grade was S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. And like Where the Red Fern Grows, we saw the film after we finished the book as a supplement. I don’t remember much about either, to be honest- something about Pony Boy staying gold or whatever, and a cast that seemed big even in 1989, six years after the film was made. Also, there was a huge brawl when I was in 8th grade and the teacher of this course tried to break it up. When she did, the class clown- NOT me- sneaked up behind her and snapped her bra. He got in an assload of trouble for that.
The Birth of a Nation (1915)
Class: The History of the Civil Rights Movement
Technically, I’m not at all sure about the course name. But it was absolutely, 100% a college class about the history of the Civil Rights movement. Watching The Birth of a Nation was one of the first things we did in that course, and the idea (obviously) was to illustrate just how institutionalized racism was in the early 20th century. It was also used to demonstrate to us how hard the country tried to rationalize what existed in the US. After all, the Klan were presented as the white knights, riding in on horseback to rescue everyone from the horrible northerners. When you’re young and full of hopes and dreams, it’s quite a shock to witness something like that movie, where abhorrent racism is presented as historical fact. It really makes the blood boil. It STILL makes my blood boil, and it’s been 15 years since I watched that movie. The irony is that the film itself was innovative purely from a technical standpoint, and now my inner angry youngster is at odds with my inner film student.
Class: Independent Studies (French)
I was a little bit advanced in French. It’s not that I was so impressive in learning the language. It’s just that it was offered at a younger age when I lived in Wisconsin. So when I moved to Missouri, I had learned more than the other kids my age. By the time I was 17, my Polish-Spanish French teacher moved me to an advanced study of the language and culture. She saw a perfect opportunity for me to learn about both the language and the culture with Danton, which gave me a background about the bloody French Revolution, while also forcing me to learn the language at an advanced level. It was a spectacular learning experience.