Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Why Is the Television On At School?

Grace came home from middle school yesterday and handed me a green half sheet of paper informing me that ". . . the class will be watching a half hour segment of the movie Super Size Me as a culminating activity for our lessons in persuasive writing. This movie is another example of Persuasion [sic] to further illustrate persuasive techniques to the students."

The film is rated PG-13 by the MPAA but Grace isn't 13 yet and even if she was there are many PG-13 movies I wouldn't let her see--some I wouldn't see myself. If the teacher is looking for a movie that persuades, what about To Kill A Mockingbird? Is there a more persuasive movie than that? There are plenty of movies that use persuasive filmmaking if the teacher is so set on using a film to illustrate a concept.

Add to this the frustration that if I don't sign her permission slip my daughter will be singled out as the Child Whose Mother Is Too Uptight and will be forced to get up, gather her books in front of the rest of the class and sit in the lunch room which everyone else turns on, tunes in and drops out.

But most importantly, I would have thought the "culmination" of a unit on persuasive writing would be doing some persuasive writing rather than watching a politically charged, emotionally exploitive, Hollywood diatribe about fast food in America. Evidently the rule is: why study Milton's Areopagitica or Swift's A Modest Proposal when you've got French fries? Those may be a little over the head of the average 7th grader, but I think the point is made.

Yes, there may be some small benefit in having the students "identify parts of the movie that use persuasion to sway the audience," putting aside the argument that there's little persuasion involved outside of propagandized rhetoric, but with limited class time whatever could be gained pales next to the benefits of studying the masters that have influenced great orators like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. I would be willing to bet there isn't a child in her class that doesn't spend too much time in front of a screen so why, with such a famine of communication, reading and writing skills in American classrooms, would the television be brought in as an example of persuasive writing?

I would be forever grateful if Northern Lights would just do their job of teaching my child the basics of education and leave the battle over the television to me.

33 comments:

Jennifer said...

Really well said, I would be upset too. Could you keep her home and have her right a review of Jonathon Swift's work? Much more highbrow!

blessings this week,
Jenny in Ca

Annie said...

I agree with Jennifer. You obviously feel very strongly about this (who wouldn't?) and when we feel that strongly about something it's a sign we should ACT in that direction. Having your daughter understand why she's staying home and writing a paper there could send a very valuable message to her. And I totally agree with how To Kill A Mockingbird would have been such a better choice. So much of public/private education is looking for the easy way out. Stick with your guns, Mom! Love your blog.

Erica Douglas said...

Here here, perhaps you should speak to some of the other parents - do they feel the same way?

Whan all is said and done - the education is paid for by you and the other parents, if your not happy, then say something.

Waya said...

I'm there with you on this subject. Why do they need to watch tv for writing? Am I missing the point here?

As parents, as advocates...we need to stick to our "guns" even if it's not popular. Personally, I would question the reasoning behing this with the teacher and see what his/her point is.

Ocean Lady said...

That definitely seems like something to have a conference with the teacher about. I totally agree with you! :=)

Leslie said...

I have to agree with you. Watching something on screen as the "culminating activity" for a writing lesson? Doesn't make much sense.

Monitoring the media our daughter is exposed to is a job my husband and I take very seriously. I'd have a problem with something like this, too.

On the other hand, at least you did get a note. My 7th grade biology teacher let us watch "Night of the Living Dead" on the last day of school in his class as a reward. Our parents weren't given the opportunity to give permission. They didn't even know.

Ni Yachen said...

Northern Lights is a funny school. They latch onto a cause and get fanatical about it, which blinds their common sense. Maybe they should be reading that instead.

This year the big push from the school district is heathier kids. Northern Lights has always been big into eating healthy, but this did not stop them from kicking it up a notch. They now have banned kids from bring sweets (e.g. cupcakes or cookies) for the class on birthdays. That seemed a little extreme to me. It seems like this teacher is just going a little too far to prove that Northern Lights it anti-fat.

Julie said...

It's nice that they asked for permission, but I agree that your daughter will feel silly to be the only one not involved.

On 9/11 my son was in school (1st grade) while I sat at home watching horrific scenes on the television. My husband and I agonized over the phone all day about how much we should tell our son or if we should even let him watch the news. When he came home from school my son said, "Guess what? They wheeled a t.v. set into our classroom and we spent the day watching CNN." *Grrr!*

J said...

I'm horrified that a writing assignment elicites an opportunity to watch TV....and even MORE horrified by Julie's tale of 1st graders watching CNN on September 11th. My jaw dropped when I read that one. Ugh.

If I were in your shoes, I would let her watch, so she's not the only one, but I would also express my displeasure to the teacher and the principal. What kind of writing teacher is this anyway, who sends home a note with a grammatical error in it? That's crazy.

I'm guessing that the teacher really loved the message of the movie, and is therefore looking for an opportunity to bring the message to the kids. That's the wrong approach, I think. First of all, it's PG13 for a reason, and they're too young. Secondly, wouldn't it be better off in health class? I'm with you, there are much better examples of written persuasion out there, and televised persuasion is different. Different medium, different class.

Reel Fanatic said...

Though I don't get personally offended by just about anything in movies, I'm definitely with you on this one .. when we watched TV way back when I was in elementary school, it always seemed like it was because the teacher hadn't prepared for class .. and you should stand strong on PG-13 .. it's already where R was 20 years ago!

Bec of the Ladies Lounge said...

I had a pink fit last term when I found out my 8yo had spent the day watching not one but two movies. The first one (Nanny McPhee) was a babysitting exercise because the principal had 'run out of time to get the staff to do their Term 4 planning' - hello? Do it after 3pm while the rest of us are still at work. And the second one was because the 'performance group teacher wanted the kids to see how much larger-than-life they needed to be on stage so she showed the High School Musical'. No1 I think HSM is the worst kind of sausage-factory Disney and wouldn't let the kids watch it at HOME. No2, my daughter's part of the performance group all right: in PROPS!! How much larger than life does an 8yo props assistant need to be to make the show a success??

Grrrrr. So I am the cranky mummy the principal hates. I can live with that.

suki said...

If it was a class on Persuasion in the Media (Television/Movies/Newspapers), I could see the use of a movie as being more acceptable, but in writing? As if teens don't watch enough television these days. :/ While I am not a parent, I can see why you would be upset.

Anonymous said...

Okay. My two cents worth. You say you don't want your daughter to "be the only one". Hey there...that is going to happen over and over as she gets older. It starts right now. Don't want to be the only one not going in the car with the teenage driver at the wheel? Don't want to be the only one not drinking at the party? See?

Put your foot down. Hard. Stand up for what you think is important. Your children are watching. They are taking notes even if you don't think so.

Anonymous said...

they showed a movie here in it's entirety RATED R and didn't notify the parents AT ALL... to 8th graders...

AMISTAD... which is a good movie... but wow...

it was a big scandal, and even made news...

at least you are being notified, but I can sympathize with your position of having the girl who's mom was too uptight...

sounds like your between a rock and a hard place. stick to your guns...

allysha said...

When the T.V. comes into class, I'm going to guess that most of the students zone out on whatever "lesson" is being taught and just enjoy the downtime. What a nice break for the teachers, though!

scribbit said...

Okay, maybe I should add something here for the record. I don't have a problem with me or my daughter being the only one not going along with the crowd, it happened plenty of times to me as a teenager. What I should have perhaps said is that I would rather her not have to go through the pain of feeling like a loner on this one and it irritates me that this teacher doesn't think of this being a possibility for some of his students when he sends home this kind of a permission slip.

Also, in case anyone is wondering what I did do--and I appreciate so many comments and advice and thoughtful answers--I didn't sign her slip, or rather I marked the "no permission" box and jotted a note about not having screened the movie first. I then gave Grace the chance to either turn in the permission slip with the note on it or just "forget" it at home and avoid an issue with her teacher. I was banking on the fact that there was no way all the students would remember their slips and sure enough, two others didn't get theirs in so she had company sitting the movie out, which she was okay with.

And yes, I am glad that at least I got a permission slip--rather than go through some of the horror stories I'm hearing about in these comments. Thanks for tuning in folks.

Mrs. Chicky said...

I'll agree with you, there must be better examples than Super Size Me. And I'm willing to bet you're not the only parent who feels this way.

amy said...

I dont have kids but I cant believe some of things at school today. I would feel just as strongly

Sarakastic said...

I remember such a permission slip in my youth to be able to watch Forrest Gump in my history class. I finished High School realizing that the only proper book that was assigned reading was "To Kill a Mockingbird". Luckily, I had parents who limited the tv time & pushed the books.

Prahagirl said...

Now, I am not saying that I agree with what I am about to say but there is always another way to look at things. I am just playing devil's advocate. Looking at it from another perspective. There is something to be said for what the teacher did. Yes, television is a huge part of children's lives, but what so many of them (and adults) forget to realize, is that there IS writing (and good writing) in television. To Kill a Mocking Bird was a book long before it was a movie. Yes, other things play into television, but without the writing all you will have are pictures and music. Don't forget that writing is not just in papers, books and magazines.

Also, there are teachers out there who are striving to make school seem "cool" to teens...this could have been one of those ways.

By law (at least in Michigan), teachers are required to send home permission slips if the children will be watching any clips of any sort of movie rated over G, for the very reason you posted about...if the parents do not approve.

Diana said...

Good for you for standing your ground! I would not have signed the slip either, of course I'm a little more, ummmm, we'll call it passionate, lol, about this and probably would have been in the school to talk to the teacher about it. I just don't find this type of lesson plan at all appropriate. I myself haven't seen Super Size Me yet, but from what I've heard I don't think it would appropriate to show to children of that age. Sure it's something persuasive that they can relate to, but a good teacher can help students relate to more constructive and much less politically driven pieces as well - with a lower rating than PG-13, too!

Ballpoint Wren said...

I felt Supersize Me was more of about absolving oneself of personal responsibility than "persuasion."

I am not impressed with that teacher. Not at all!

Anonymous said...

Wow! Times have changed. When they wheeled the TV inito our junior high classroom, it was to watch Romeo and Juliet! I remember in high school government class my senior year, it was a big deal to watch All the President's Men, and then they had to fast forward it past all the "bad" words.

I have seen Supersize Me, and it is a great documentary, but the only affect I see it have on junior high school students is giving them a massive craving for McDonald's.

knowhimwell said...

Isn't the "Super Size Me" movie a documentary about the guy that eats McDonalds for 30 days? If it is, then I don't know why it is rated PG-13. I've seen it, but I don't remember there being any bad parts in it. It has been about 6 months since I've seen it though.

knowhimwell said...

I saw Neila's comment, so it is the documentary. I guess they want to show students how fast food can harm their bodies.

I am not condoning them showing PG-13 movies in school, but I will say that my husband is a youth pastor and I have seen and heard the things that middle schoolers do. It is at least PG-13. The stuff on their myspace page is PG-13 or R. I am appalled at the stuff I see and hear.

dcrmom said...

Incredibly well said! This is my first time to your blog. Good stuff.

Anonymous said...

This just convinces me even further to homeschool my little guy when he's old enough to go to school. I don't want anyone making up bad lesson plans for him, subjecting him to things I wouldn't want him to see and getting federal funds for doing so. Lesson learned.

Sparky Duck said...

The movie should be PG-13, its kinda scary if I think of all the things Ive eaten. However, overall, it might be good for kids to have exposure to a movie, or a summary of a movie they would never ever watch on there own.

Anonymous said...

I remember watching Pink Floyd's "The Wall" in a marketing class in high school. They never had us bring home permission slips. I am sure there were other things we could have been doing. I think a few years after I graduated the teacher was reprimanded for showing the movie. There are some pretty disturbing images in it. My parents were shocked when they found out.

Anyway, I can remember quite a few times in school having the tv rolled in and watching something. Either a movie the last week of class, or if something major happened, such as when the space shuttle blew up or when the Berlin wall came down. As a kid I never minded it, I always felt like I was getting out of work. However, if they would have asked my parents if it was okay they would have said no.

Do you think that overall it was better for your child to sit out and not do anything versus watching part of the movie? That is what I would have to ask myself. Is there something to be gained at all from this experience. I would still voice my concerns with the teacher or principal.

Prahagirl said...

I can honestly say that it is situations such as these that are bringing more and more children into our Christian Day School (we are very small...3 teachers and grades PK - 8).

Penny said...

I'm in University. Every comparison and analogy I've come across this year has had to do with supermodels, actors, musicians or cnn. NOTHING from books. It's sick. And, sad. And, I hate television, too. And, I'm the one who will suffer in my classes of hundreds, because I don't get the reference made in my psych class to Ruben Studder (sp*??).

*sigh*

I agree with you.

I'm cleaning homes to put my daughter into private school.

It's a hard fight.
Keep fighting.

Stephanie A. said...

I agree that a PG-13 movie should not be shown to kids who aren't yet 13. And the permission slip should have had a description of the "30 minutes" that would be used in class and why it pertains to the lesson at hand.

Sacramento said...

Hmmm i agree also.