Coming to a Classroom Near You!
seventh grader's journey includes learning math through Scooby Doo
©2001 Gary S. Stager/Curriculum Administrator Magazine
A version of this was published in the August 2001 issue of Curriculum Administrator Magazine
At our annual family dinner to celebrate the end of another
school year each of our children reflected upon the lessons learned and the
obstacles overcome during the previous ten months. Our seventh-grade daughter,
who will be referred to by the top-secret code name of Miffy, shared with us a
new pedagogical strategy and use of educational technology not yet conceived
of during my school years. What was this innovation? Was it project-based learning, multiage collaboration, constructionism, online publishing, modeling and simulation? No, it was Disney films.
Yup, that's right. Disney films (and several others too). The following is a partial list of the films shown this year during class time by my daughter's teachers.
period language arts
period physical education (rainy days)
period social studies
The Nightmare Before Christmas
The Lion King
Mighty Joe Young
The Little Mermaid
Angels in the
The Big Green*
Planet of the Apes
Mighty Joe Young
The Lion King II
The Road to
Touched by an Angel episode dealing with racism & prejudice
Remember the Titans
Rocky & Bullwinkle
Star Wars: Return
of the Jedi
Mr. Holland's Opus
I know that you must be marveling at the interdisciplinary
nature of The Nightmare Before Christmas. You may also be wondering why there were no movies shown during fifth period. That's because they don't show movies during lunch.
Now I'm as fond of wasting time and goofing-off as the next guy, but Miffy was able to remember watching at least 34 films having no educational value whatsoever in one school year. In case you were thinking that they could be studying film criticism or visual storytelling you should know that they only watched half of most films because the periods are too short. Others were watched over several days.
This remarkable waste of class time
occurred in a school where requests for meaningful projects, hands-on
experiments, field-trips, drama and other productive learning experiences
are abandoned because of an oft-repeated "lack of time." Sure
the standardized tests and top-down curricular pressures wreak havoc with
creating a productive context for learning, but we can't blame this one
on Princeton or the President. Somewhere along the line educators determined
that the demanding curriculum was elastic enough for the illegal showing
of countless commercial films.
My Daughter the Rodeo Clown
Miffy also told me that due to the SAT-9 exams, Career Day had been cancelled. I'm not sure which part of that statement is most tragic, so let's state it in the form of a standardized test question.
Which is most pathetic?
Canceling Career Day because of SAT-9 testing
The school's remedy for having cancelled career day
The ingenious remedy chosen was to
spend much of the last week of school watching a series of instructional
videos called, "Real Life 101." While hardly as educational as Mulan, these shows turned out to be far more entertaining. The audience was repeatedly reminded, "you
don't need a college degree for this career, but it wouldn't hurt! "
The hosts of the series, Maya, Megan, Zooby and Josh (there always seems to be a Josh) introduced exciting career options for the high-tech interconnected global economy of the 21st century. The career options included the following: Snake handler, projectionist, naval explosive expert, skydive instructor, rafting instructor, diamond cutter, roller coaster technician, exterminator, auctioneer, alligator wrestler and my personal favorite growth industry - rodeo clown!
You can't make this stuff up! The worksheet that followed the Career Day substitute asked each child to rank these careers in order of preference and write a few sentences explaining their number one choice.
If I wanted my children
to watch television, I'd let them stay home. At least at home
they could watch something educational like "Behind the Music:
The Mamas and the Papas"or learn about Beat poetry from the "Many
Loves of Dobie Gillis. " At least then they would have a chance to learn something more than the unfortunate lessons being modeled by their schools.
*My kid explained that all of these films share the same plot about a group of fat kids working hard together to win the big game - somewhere in there a lesson for us all.