Two thumbs down

Dec. 21, 2005, midnight | By Ethan Kuhnhenn | 18 years, 5 months ago

Rated R films regulation is unfair and unwarranted

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 rating—well, 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.

Ethan Kuhnhenn. Ethan Kuhnhenn is a junior in the Communication Arts program and is entering his first year as a SCO staff member. When he's not fishing in his new bass boat, you can probably find him at Taco Bell chilling with his best friend, the cheesy … More »

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