Film as a Teaching Tool

| December 3, 2010

This semester, one of my courses is focused on the teaching of social studies. Any way you slice it, I think that social studies can be one of the most interesting topics. What other course can legitimately rationalize teaching about all the things that make up the human condition and have left us where we are today? Its pretty neat stuff.

One of the topics discussed in this class was the use of films as a teaching tool. I used to think that using films was a cop-out, but now I believe that, used in a constructive way, films can be an extremely engaging, dynamic and memorable tool in the classroom.

So I was thrilled when I found this exhaustive and exhausting list, ranked best to worst, of films about higher education.

Some titles that ring a bell are John Singleton’s Higher Learning; Blue Chips, featuring Nick Nolte as a basketball coach who’s head almost always seems about to explode; and of course, Good Will Hunting, with both Matt Damon and Robin Williams. For sure you could use Higher Learning as a lens towards racism in higher ed and Good Will Hunting can be used as an analysis of class issues in higher ed. Perhaps Blue Chips could be used to discuss the stress on sports teams to perform – or serve as a warning to students with rage issues.

Did I mention that this list is exhaustive? One of the great features is that it includes some pulpy, terrible-sounding films, that I would most likely not use in class, but would like to see for my own viewing pleasure. Which ones, you might ask? How about The Food of the Gods? The caption reads: “a professor’s experiments result in supersized rats that create havoc on his campus”. Or maybe The Crawling Hand? This caption foretells what sounds like hilarious horror: “a college student finds and is terrorized by the dismembered hand of a former astronaut.” You might have guessed by now that I love grade b or lower horror movies.

Some off the list that I’ve never seen, but would use in class include September 30, 1955 (“college students mourn the death of James Dean); The Revolutionary (“Jon Voight is a college student who becomes caught up in radical politics.”), Kent State (“a superior made-for-television dramatization of the events leading up to the shooting of student protesters by the Ohio National Guard.”); or Friends (“a South African film about three women–representing the affluent, British liberals, the working-class, reactionary Afrikaners, and the oppressed Zulus–who meet at a university.”). I like films that can address historical events and can be used as a lens to analyze and discuss events today, like protest, organizing and women’s issues. In the case of the James Dean film, it could be used to discuss the effects that pop icons, whether they want to or not, have on our culture.

Do you use film in your classrooms? What do you use? If you don’t would you think of using films? I’m curious!