Reel school: What movies are shown in class and why


Ilena Peng

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Whether you’re the type of student who falls asleep during movies or the kind who diligently takes notes, you have definitely watched at least one movie over the course of the semester. Those movies may vary from classic cartoons, to movies based off of novels like “A Tale of Two Cities,” to historical dramatizations like “Schindler’s List.” Regardless of the type of film, movies in classrooms can provide many benefits, whether it be stress-relief or a deeper learning experience.

Social Studies teacher Robbie Hoffman has been teaching both World and US history at Monta Vista for six years. He says that movies in his class are chosen purposefully in order to reinforce the points previously discussed in the course.

“I always have a movie that connects to what we’re going to talk about, or what we are talking about, or what we’re learning about in class,” Hoffman said. “It’s not just a random movie that I picked up and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to go show this thing.’ It always has to do with something what we evaluated in class.”

Although some teachers make an obvious effort to make watching movies in class a positive learning experience, many students, although appreciative of the movies, fail to see the “educational” perspective. One such student is sophomore Andrea Chang, who is in Hoffman’s history class. She sees movies as entertainment that provides an alternate but minimal form of education, from a source other than the teacher or a textbook.

“They seem to be educational but [are] mainly entertaining,” Chang said, “and you don’t have to listen to the teacher talk.”

Occasionally, this can lead to student misbehavior while a film is being played, when they falsely believe that the cloak of darkness will hide them from the teacher’s eyes. Even though Hoffman believes that students here at MV are well behaved, he recalls that his experiences at other schools as a substitute teacher were drastically different.

What may come as a surprise to students is that our district does indeed have a list of approved movies for screenings in classrooms. Not only are some students unaware of this list, but many teachers don’t know about it either, one example being business and law teacher Jeff Mueller. He chooses to send out permission slips to his class. Mueller shows movies not to teach a concept, but rather to reinforce a previously learned topic or to act as a transition for a new topic. He also acknowledges that even as technology gets more advanced and movies are more frequently seen in classrooms, their role has remained the same. While teachers normally shy away from Hollywood movies out of the fear that the movie’s portrayal will be stereotypical, Mueller finds that the movies are still very educational. Nonetheless, some of the movies shown in class remain unapproved by the FUHSD.

“Hollywood movies make it a lot bigger; they explode it a bit, but it’s still the same concept no matter how you look at it.” Mueller said.

In school, we learn about many sensitive topics, such as extreme levels of discrimination seen in people like the Nazis’. Accordingly, many classes screen films about these sensitive topics like “Schindler’s List,” a restricted movie. Senior Iris Tsai is currently taking contemporary lit and previously watched “Schindler’s List” in her world history class. She says that watching sensitive movies is only justified when the movie is extremely relevant to the curriculum. And although such delicate topics may leave students like Tsai a little shaken up, Tsai finds it to be a valuable learning opportunity to see physical images of what happened in our world.

“I watched ‘Schindler’s list’ and I covered my eyes for parts of it because I was so scared,” Tsai said. “But by watching the movie you’ll feel the damage the Nazis have created and [feel a stronger connection.]”

Despite the presence of graphic content in some movies, students still find the movies educational in nature. Even though teachers attempt to pick movies that are educational in nature, depending on the subject, some students still think that these movies vary in usefulness and value. Overall, movies appear to be a welcome and regular part of MVHS’s curriculum, and will continue to be so for times to come.

Written and reported by Ilena Peng and Bill Cheng