The school board at Council Rock School District in southeastern Pennsylvania decided last week that teachers may continue to use R-rated movies in class. Their defense of the policy comes after an extended controversy that began last fall when parent Diana Nolan asked that all R-rated films be removed from high school curricula. Parents were required to sign permission slips before film screenings, but Nolan felt that having to do so put her in “an awkward position” and embarrassed her son.
Other parents soon echoed her contention that all R-rated films are inappropriate for all high school students. Students responded by crowding a school board meeting on January 21 and drawing up a petition with more than 500 signatures. Junior Ryan Carlin strongly opposed the proposed ban:
Enough is enough. Censorship of literature, of art and film is a true offense. We feel these films are educationally valuable and abandoning them will open a Pandora’s box of censorship.
Nolan argued that teachers should simply use other films, ones “that are appropriate that are not R-rated. Why do we need shock factor?” More than “shock” factors into the scenes that earn critically-acclaimed films an R-rating, officials and teachers argued. Films such as Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List may be shocking, but that only testifies to their educational value as they supplement historical readings in a powerfully visual way.
Far from being a non-intellectual teaching tool, film is essential to modern education. Joy McClendon, director of elementary education and curriculum services, said, “A critical aspect of an education today is visual literacy. Students are bombarded with images from the 21st century. Part of the job of the teacher is to interpret these images and to discriminate what is valuable and what is not.” Teachers who decide to use certain films in class do right to consider educational value before rating. Censoring all R-rated films would block a large percentage of the most engaging, culturally relevant films from the classroom.
Superintendent Mark Klein responded to the debate: “One side opposes on stimulus: what the actual image is. Kids and teachers have, to some extent, focused on response: what is being taken. And between stimulus and response is a very important intermediate variable and that is the thoughtful interaction of a teacher in a classroom.” In other words: where Nolan and others see only nudity, violence, and drug use, students and teachers see realistic and artistic texts to interpret, analyze, and discuss.