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Dec. 21, 2005

Two thumbs down

by Ethan Kuhnhenn, Online Managing Editor
School Superintendent Jerry Weast snuck one by the Board of Education earlier this semester by imposing a regulation that prevents teachers from showing movies rated R and PG-13 to high school and middle school students. Between this and the "sex-ed video" debacle, Montgomery County Public Schools seem to be headed down a path in the wrong direction.

Weast may be taking a few cues from Montgomery County's southern neighbors, the friendly conservatives at the Charles County School Board, who recently discussed banning books with "immoral messages" in high school libraries. Maybe we shouldn't scoff at the thought of Blair science teachers preaching creationism.

The recently publicized regulation is an egregious violation of teachers' rights and will negatively affect students' ability to interpret literature and the media. Let's hope it is not a harbinger of what is to come from a politically sporadic school system.

Weast's decision to impose the regulation unfairly eliminated both teachers and the Board of Education from the decision-making process. The regulation didn't come under Board of Education review because it is not a policy, which it should have been considering the directive's serious instructional implications. Generally, the Board of Education does not review and `okay' regulations that the administration and Superintendent develop, which allowed this regulation to go through the usual system of checks and balances undetected. Because of this, the teachers, the ones who will be impacted the most, behind their students, by the regulation, are losing a valuable teaching tool that complements studies in literature and media literacy.

Teachers show videos throughout middle and high school in order to give their students a better comprehension of history and issues or to provide a visual aid when studying literature. Teachers would not show their kids a film unless it had serious educational value. And, if used in the classroom as a mode of discussion and not just entertainment, films are just as worthy teaching devices as books are. Teachers know that films open up discussion and are ways to engage students who may be more drawn to a visual element.

Not only can films open up discussion, they can also teach students in a way that history textbooks can't. Videos like Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List," which provides great documentary footage of the Holocaust, would not be allowed in classrooms under the new directive. Other R-rated films with instructional value include "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," which is actually a recommended film in the 10th grade English curriculum.

Also not allowed are clips from films that are rated R (or PG-13 in middle schools). Even if the clip has no objectionable material that would merit an R or PG-13 rating, it still cannot be shown in class. Preventing teachers from showing mere clips, devoid of any profanity, violence and sex, is severely limiting and unwarranted. The point of the regulation was to shelter students from objectionable material. If there's no objectionable material in a video clip, that clip earns a G ratingówell, not technically, but does the school system really believe that a teacher won't recognize objectionable material when he/she sees it?

Additionally, many of the films with R ratings that students study in class were produced ten, twenty years ago when the rating system was more conservative. Movies made in the 70's, and 80's, such as Roman Polanski's "Macbeth" or "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," would not be rated R under today's standards.

Under the old policy, the administration gave teachers the judgment call on whether or not to show potentially objectionable material to their students. Many teachers issued permissions slips to students prior to viewing a film and some teachers skipped objectionable parts of films. Now, the superintendent and the administration are saying that teachers lack the judgment to make this decision. They are trusting these teachers enough to put the education of thousands of students in their hands, but they can't let them decide whether a film is appropriate or not?

In restricting teachers from showing rated R and PG-13 movies to high school and middle school students, the Montgomery County Public School system has eliminated a valuable teaching resource that complements instruction in literature and media literacy.



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  • Anonymous on December 25, 2005 at 12:10 AM
    I understand R, but why PG-13? Every kid in high school is over 13.
  • michael bushnell (View Email) on December 26, 2005 at 2:08 AM
    "Teachers would not show their kids a film unless it had serious educational value."

    No way, Ethan. Ive watched The Simpsons and Armageddon in class before.

    "Weast may be taking a few cues from Montgomery County's southern neighbors, the friendly conservatives at the Charles County School Board, who recently elected to ban books like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" in high school libraries. Maybe we shouldn't scoff at the thought of Blair science teachers preaching creationism."

    Thats a stretch and you know it. I dont like the rule either, but students under 17 (technically) arent allowed to watch R rated movies. Ultimately it should be up to the parent to give permission; thats the right rule. But to equate this with creationism is unfair and lazy.

    "Movies made in the 70's, and 80's, such as Roman Polanski's "Macbeth" or "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," would not be rated R under today's standards."

    According to whom? You give no anectdotal evidence there.

    I agree with your argument, just not how its presented.
  • to bushy on January 2, 2006 at 10:36 AM
    Whether your teachers show you educational films or not is up to the teachers, so this policy doesn't affect that at all. Actually, according to the new regulation, Simpsons and Armageddon would still be shown in class, because of their ratings.

    This is not about watching those types of movies, but watching films that actually help teach kids by providing a more visual example of the cirriculum.

    And also about the under 17 thing, as long as a teacher (someone who is over 21) is in the class room, the students will be able to watch rated R films.
  • To on January 3, 2006 at 11:00 PM
    The Motion Picture Association designates that a rating R means:

    R:"Restricted, Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent Or Adult Guardian."

    Teachers are not Adult Guardians. Michael Bushnell is correct - you must have parental permission
  • ?? on January 10, 2006 at 11:48 PM
    Aren't teachers your guardian while you are in school?
  • dfs on January 14, 2006 at 8:18 PM
    yes...the supreme court case that i can't remember the name of in the 80s where the girl was busted for pot possesion on school but said the evidence was obtained without legal search warrants, they ruled that the teachers took the place of parents(who dont need search warrants) while in school, so..it seems like that should apply here
  • indeed on January 16, 2006 at 3:15 PM
    en locos parentes
  • Spencer (View Email) on January 31, 2006 at 2:03 PM
    Weast is an idiot and always has been. I'm glad I'm graduating before he starts the book bonfires.
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