Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Visual Literacy

According to Martin Scorcese, "we should make room for film in curriculum. What you are doing is training the eye and the heart of the student to look at film in a different way by asking questions and pointing to different ideas, different concepts. You're training them to think about a story that is told in visual terms in a different way, and to take it seriously.  It is so important, I think, because so much in today's society is communicated visually and even subliminally. Young people have to know that this way of communicating is a very, very powerful tool."

In an ideal educational setting where (a) there were no restrictions on what type of movie you could show students and (b) you are able to facilitate the discussions regarding the movie without constraints, which movie would you recommend that students must view BEFORE they graduate high school?  Please consider any movie regardless of genre, violence or sexual content.  Why would you recommend that movie?


  1. So as a math teacher, you've got to expect that I'm going to approach this question much differently than some of you will. But that's the beauty of our class, that we have so many different perspectives of teachers heading into different areas of teaching!

    One of the things that I hope most for students is that they leave my class with a heightened appreciation of math, specifically with respect to their own abilities in the math classroom and development as young adults who are capable users of math. The development of this "math ability" is something that many of these students have to do in light of terrible home lives, and in spite of much of what society sets out as expectations for them.

    Picking just one movie to recommend that high schoolers' view before they graduate high school is extremely difficult, because it causes me to narrow down everything that I think is important to their development to just 2 hours of film. After thinking about this for a while tonight, I've decided that the movie I would suggest is GOOD WILL HUNTING. It could certainly be argued that the language in this movie is highly inappropriate and there are definitely sexual references that would normally be deemed inappropriate. In spite of this, though, the movie incorporates many life lessons and weaves them in with the experiences that the characters have. Death, poverty, unequal access to education- all of these are topics that the movie touches on. What I like most about this movie is that it casts a very unlikely character as this "math whiz" and showcases his struggles with this strength of his, and how he eventually triumphs and works through his emotional baggage and demons to come out on top. I think that it is a movie that has the ability to spark much discussion among students as they learn to view it critically through different lenses- that of the teacher, the student, the psychologist, university officials, and so on.

  2. Taking into account the fact that it is incredibly violent, has both explicit and implied inappropriate sexual content, and various other highly controversial issues, I think that the movie every student should see before leaving high school is "American History X". It is actually the controversial material in the film that makes it such a great way to approach topics such as racism, nativism, and immigration that our students deal with on a daily basis. The film doesn't allow for a single interpretation, but takes some incredibly "hot" topics from many different perspectives. I would wait probably until the students' senior years to show it, just because it is graphic and wouldn't be appropriate for younger students. However, I think showing the film and then allowing the students to digest it in their own way and then discuss it as a group, taking into account the various points of view that the movie depicts is an excellent way to deal with highly sensitive issues. The movie also brings up the issues of critical literacy. All the characters in the film, at some point, have to think critically about where their information is coming from, who they are listening to, and how they are constructing their own truth about race relations or how those truths are being constructed for them by peers, mentors, parents, and teachers. It is a great showcase of the necessity for critical literacy that the students can see as a real world example. This could lead to discussions about critical literacy and critical thinking in their lives as well as about the film and what the makers of the film are trying to make you feel or understand.

    If you haven't seen "American History X" I recommend it with the disclaimer that it is graphic and some parts can be hard to swallow. Also, here's a link to the IMDB (The Internet Movie Database) page for "American History X" if you want to read the synopsis or see some screen images. Edward Norton is AMAZING in this movie (and all his other movies for that matter) :]

  3. If I could choose any movie to show students before they graduate from high school, I would choose Crash. This movie deals with a lot of issues that are really important for students to be aware of, especially if they grow up in a place which is somewhat sheltered. It deals with race, ethnicity, prejudice and stereotypes from multiple perspectives. This film forces us to examine our own stereotypes and prejudices along with our own experiences and environments. It is a great social commentary, but goes deeper than that by addressing some really heart-wrenching issues and situations.

    My hope would be that this film could help students to overcome naiive views and to expand their thinking and empathy towards others. This film uses intertwining stories and great cinematography to communicate a very important message. I think it's a great example of how a film can be a very powerful tool of communication. Crash forces its viewers to look at our own lives and to realize that we may not be as different from others as we originally thought. In actuality, we are all quite alike.

  4. If I have a chance to discuss a topic which is controversial here in the U.S. and specifically in California, I would consider the issues around us such as immigration, undocumented workers, and border issue. Because all these issues are inseparable reality of California and there are quite number of Latin populations. In that sense, I would bring the movie “Under the Same Moon” and facilitate the discussions with the students. This movie is not violent or has sexual content; rather it is a warm-hearted and happy-ending story. This ending is also quite controversial because we know how hard it is if somebody try to across the border from Mexico to the U.S. Through the little boy’s journey to find his mom in LA, we can see all the real life issues related to this family. Students may not aware the seriousness of illegal immigrants or illegal workers’ hard life in the U.S. This kind of indirect experience can provide students to think from ‘someone else’s shoes’, in this case, 9-year-old boys’ experience. Also, students can not overlook the importance of family and motherly love throughout the storyline. Students will notice the difference of parent’s role between the mother and the father clearly and it will also provoke hot discussion about who will be responsible for raising a child in the family. These issues are challenging for high school students, but it surely worth watching and discussing for opening their eyes toward real life world.

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  6. First off, kudos on the selections so far. I'm a big fan of American History X as well as Goodwill Hunting. I have not seen Crash or Under The Same Moon, but I will definitely try to check them out. Fo me, when I first read this post, I immediately thought about the social studies realm. There are so many good films that students should see like Seven Years in Tibet, Slumdog Millionaire, Gandhi, and so on. However, I ultimately went with one unrelated to my content area and I will share with you why.

    I've always felt that we don't work enough with our students as they are approaching high school graduation. Sure we have checked their grades, letters of recommendation, SAT scores, essays, and so forth but have we ever really sat down and discussed what our students expect life will be like once they leave the friendly confines of high school? The student will either be out on his own in college or out on his own in the real world. Both of these situations are not to be taken lightly.

    It is with this in mind that I would show the film Orange County. It's a feel good film starring Colin Hanks (Tom's son) as an aspiring writer who has wanted to go to Stanford for as long as he can remember. He works his tail off in high school but due to a transcript mix up, he is denied admission to Stanford. Once this happens, his world falls apart and he tries to do everything he can to get into Stanford. Eventually, he is accepted after a series of hilarious events (many of them involving Jack Black) but he realizes that what we wanted at Stanford was something he had all along in Orange County. He ultimatley decides to stay there and attend the local college.

    I would show this film not only because it's a feel good film, but because I think it speaks to students at an important juncture of their lives. Just because you didn't get into your top school doesn't mean you won't be happy these next four years. If you're not going to college, let's look at the main character's friends. They are entering the work force full time, but they have a positive outlook and realize it was the best decision for them. They are willing to embark on their own journey, separate from the world of formal education. Lastly, the movie shows the importance of family. No matter where you go in life, family is important. Stick with them, even if they appear crazy and kooky in the eyes of others. Wherever your family is will always be your home.

  7. I remember when I saw the movie,'Schindler's List' in my second year in college,I couldn't sleep all night long. It was the true story of one remarkable man who outwitted Hitler and the Nazis to save more Jews from the gas chambers than any other during World War II. Although he was a man full of flaws like the rest of us not like a super hero, he showed the highest level of humanity and the respect of human life. This movie inpired me courage and human decency to do something meaningful in my life. I guess this is why a movie can a powerful tool to teach something priceless such as correctness/rightness about our life. The emotional and psychological points in a movie are the essence to learn and to be taken seriously in terms of visual literacy. From this point of view, this movie is recommened by me to give the students a chance to view violence in real context to criticize.

  8. The movie that I would recommend is Freedom Writers. Many people didn’t like the movie; they thought it was a knock off of Dangerous Minds or Stand and Deliver, but I think that it sends the same message that those movies do in a more contemporary way. For those of you who haven’t seen it, the movie is about a teacher who moves from Newport to LA to teach a class of at-risk students. The students in her class segregate themselves by race and refuse to take her seriously. Eventually, she gets them to open up by encouraging them to write about their lives in their journals, and she inspires them to succeed despite being told throughout their lives that they won’t. At the beginning and throughout the movie, you see what these kids go through with their families, their gangs, and their friends. For me, these glimpses into their lives were the best part of the movie, because I was never exposed to anything like that in my life. I think that students should watch this movie before graduating high school because it would inspire them to overcome their hardships and push them to be all that they can be. It teaches you that no matter how bad you think you have it, someone always has it worse than you. The movie shows us how we should take advantage of those moments when we are offered help, because they don’t come along often enough. By watching this movie, students can change their entire outlook on life and really start to believe in themselves.

  9. I would choose the movie, "Saving Private Ryan". Anything by Stephen Spielberg is an example of superb film-making, but beyond that, I would choose this movie because it attempts to depict war in a realistic light. Prior to the release of this film most war movies, especially those about World War II, portrayed war in a glorified way. Films about war played along with our culture's practice of emphasizing nationalistic values in order to obscure the violence and heartbreak that war entails. Citizens are more apt to support the concept of war when it is cloaked in glory than when it is portrayed in a more realistic light. "Saving Private Ryan" shows the terror and the horror of a wartime experience without taking away from the humanity of the characters. We still respect them while witnessing the very real fear and ambivalence experienced by the men in this situation. We witness the grief of Private Ryan's family resulting from the loss of their sons -- a loss that no amount of folded flags of 21-gun salutes can restore. Ultimately, "Saving Private Ryan" shows the lifelong emotional effects that soldiers and their families experience as a result of fighting in a war.

    Viewing this film is valuable to students in a couple of ways. First of all, it can lead to a critical appraisal of how war is depicted in films. Why is war portrayed in a certain way? Who profits from this type of portrayal? What are the benefits and drawbacks of the different ways of depicting war?

    Secondly, viewing this film can lead to discussions on the reasons why wars are fought. Is war an effective way to bring about change? What are the long lasting effects of war? Can war be justified? And if so, under what circumstances?

    Already, a lot of armed conflict takes place in an abstract, technological way, and this approach to war will be used more and more in the future. Seeing and discussing a film which shows graphic scenes of battle can bring more reality to students' concepts of what war is. Increasingly, there are no "local" wars in the world. What one country does affects us all. It is important that young people learn to make a critical evaluation of the factors at work in the portrayal of war, as well as the very real horror that war entails. Viewing "Saving Private Ryan" can add to the understanding that the decision to wage war is a very sober one with deep consequences, not to be undertaken lightly or in the throes of jingoistic fervor.

  10. When I first read the question, I immediately thought of the movie Crash, then I thought of the movie Debajo La Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon). Since, both these movies were already chosen I thought it would be boring to write about them again. So, I sat down and really thought about it. After much deliberation, I have decided that the movie all students need to see is Mi Familia- My Family.

    It is a film that unravels the story of a family over three generations. The story begins with two people, Maria and Jose, migrating to what would later become East LA from Mexico. They meet in LA and face struggles of starting a life, getting jobs, and deportation. The film then moves on to the story of their children growing up in East LA in the 1950's. It shows the life of a family and how the gang world engulfs them. Each of their children take a different path but the path of one as a gangster seems to be the most powerful visually. The film then moves on to the story of a grandchild born to Maria and Jose.

    The reason I chose this film was because it talks very deeply about the life of a gangster and his family. Many people that I have encountered in my life don't understand what it is like to live in a gang infested community or even what it must be like to be related to a gang member. It is easy to only view the negative aspects of gang life, and never think deeply as to who they are as individuals, or where they came from. This film gives one a sneak peak. I also chose it because it shows the struggle of immigrant parents and how hard they work to have their children live a better life here in the States. One of the main themes in the movie is family. It shows how no matter what family is the backbone of society.

    I want to teach in an urban school, mainly in the Southbay, because it is where I come from. I know what it is like to come from a street where the gang members strike fear into the neighborhood. Most students in the Southbay also know what this is like, however, they may not know that it is possible to succeed. This film shows the cruelties of living in such a world and overcoming the obstacles. It portrays the children of these immigrant parents as becoming successful in their chosen professions. It tells the story of my future students lives, but gives then a different reality to dream of accomplishing.

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  12. As an educator, I wanted to teach the students how to be a great person in this world. Before they go to college, or enter the society, they should know what is should be believed. Every thing is unsure except that we will all die in the end of our journeys. So I want to show them the hero in my heart. I was really touched by the movie named Kingdom of Heaven. Edward Norton acted well by playing the role of a king named Baldwin IV of Jerusalem (1161 – 1185). The king contracted leprosy at a young age(9 years old). And he took the throne when he was 13 years old. The leper king experienced the ordeal in the movie, and it made him to be a real hero. He had to wear mask and suffer the pain from the festering sore. During the 11years of being the king, he won two great victories that fought with Salading(the king of Muslim). He protected his people from the threat of the wars. As an author said,” For Baldwin was by any measure a successful king - considering his circumstances and limited resources, a great one. Though his people were massively outnumbered and surrounded on three sides, this boy, who took the throne in 1164 and died aged not quite 24 in 1185, for 11 years frustrated the ambition of Saladin, the greatest warrior of the age, to forge unity among the Arab people and drive the Christians from the Holy Places.” Baldwin is accomplishments would seem to be the stuff of myth, but he was quite real, a testament to human courage and endurance.

    The following website link provides the best parts of this movie—all shots of the leper king. It only takes 18 minutes, you can see Baldwin IV, king of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem is largely - and unfairly - unknown in the west today.

  13. The film high school students should see before they graduate is the Michael Moore documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. Although current high school aged students were only 6-9 years old when the tragic events of 9/11 happened, they are still being effected by the war and the events of that day. Additionally, the documentary can spur discussion on the war, where we are as a result of it, and how it has effected our society over the past 8 years. The documentary is a front row tour of corruption and deceit at the diplomatic level.

    Another film that high school students should view before they graduate is The Graduate (1967)starring Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman plays Benjamin Braddock, a recent college graduate. He is noticeably uncomfortable when his parent's friends ask him what he is going to do now that he is finished with school. The film highlights Ben's fear and anxiety regarding his impending future and the pressure he feels from his father to continue his education. Although the film has some sexual scenes, it brings a comical side to growing up and being confused about the future. This may put students at ease as they venture into the unknown upon graduating high school.

  14. I have purposely scrolled past all the other entries because I didn't want to be swayed by them.

    Unfortunately, this question has outted me on the embarrassing fact that I have seen very few important, classic movies. This is especially inexcusable because I'm a photographer and should therefore be well-versed in cinema.

    I was pondering my answer and couldn't think of a particular movie that I would consider very important for a young person to see, so I had to look at various lists online. However, upon doing this, I feel comfortable narrowing it down to one: Life is Beautiful. I've only been able to see it once, years ago, because of my unfortunate habit of crying profusely at even the slightest display of sadness or emotion (nothing is off limits...commercials, animated characters, even White Fang did a number on me).

    This film touches on so many important subjects. First, and most obvious, the Holocaust, but from a refreshing and powerful perspective. There's also family, sacrifice, father-son relationships, war, love, and not to belittle it, the importance of perspective and positivity.

    These themes are important to people of any age but I think that they can be especially valuable to young people. For one, they've just learned about this subject matter in their social science classes, so not only is it fresh, but they can get out of their books and see how this could play out in real life. It offers them a new perspective on something that may have seemed distant, abstract, or having no impact on their lives. They can see that these themes are universal and they can hopefully come away with a new respect of the importance of attitude in life.

  15. I know Michael Moore is a very controversial filmmaker, but if I were teaching high school this year I would like to view his documentary Sicko. With the current health care crisis going on in our country, I really think this movie is particularly relevant. Michael Moore starts the documentary by explaining that this is not a movie about people who don’t have health insurance, rather it is a movie about those who do have health care coverage and are being mistreated and denied treatment because health insurance and pharmaceutical companies want to maximize profits. The documentary highlights horrific examples of patients denied medical care even though they have insurance (including rescue workers who volunteered at Ground Zero after 9/11 and are suffering from respiratory disease). In an effort to prove his point, he takes a small boat of people who were refused care in the US by their insurance companies to Guantanamo Bay to attempt to receive the same health care afforded to detainees. After viewing the movie, I would ask students to research health care around the world and the current proposals for health care reform in our country. Additionally, this documentary could lead to discussions about perspective and bias, since Moore is obviously very liberal.

  16. I would choose the movie “Forrest Gump” because it encompasses so many areas of education. First of all, it does an excellent job depicting a turbulent era in U.S. history, and it seems to present both sides of the issues better than most text books. It portrays the reality of racism, drug addiction, STD’s, discrimination, and war. I also love how well it blends the reality of society (using actual footage) with the struggles of an individual with a disability. So many of our students are unaware of what it means to be handicapped; they don’t understand what it means to be mentally challenged or have respect for the people that face that obstacle. Also, we push so many text book lessons at our students, but never show them any actual accounts because they’re often too graphic for the classroom. Showing them how a story is interwoven with history can help them to grasp the concepts and realize the importance of the events. I know that I can more easily recall scenes from a movie than paragraphs from a book, and I think most of our students are the same way.
    Furthermore, our students never see reality in their education. If the issue of drugs and sex is ever even addressed, it is done so with a ten-foot pole, and this hands-off approach allows students to live in the fantasy world of belief that these issues won’t happen to them. This movie does a good job of portraying the reality of addiction and unprotected sex. Jenny leads the wrong kind of lifestyle for years, and even though she returns to Forrest and gets her life back on track, she has done irreparable damage. It is important for students to understand that the choices we make now do affect our future in one way or another.
    Finally, as an English teacher, this movie does an amazing job of using the music of the time and lyrics to create an appropriate atmosphere. Its storyline contains countless literary devices such as foreshadowing, irony, metaphors, etc, and the story itself could be a classic. It holds countless educational opportunities that are cross curricular while teaching character education at the same time.

  17. The movie that immediately came to my mind was Life is Beautiful- which is about the Holocaust. I remember watching that movie in high school and it had such an impact on me. The movie not only depicted what life was like in the concentration camps, but also focused on a father/son relationship- which made you become very attached to both characters. I think that the father/son relationship gave the audience an incredibly small window of how it felt to be in a concentration camp or loose someone you cared for in a concentration camp. Although there were graphic/violent scenes, I didn't think anything was inappropriate for high schoolers to watch. I strongly recommend this movie and wish that every student could see it before graduating high school!

  18. I made the mistake of reading all of the blogs (and waiting until the last second) :) ....the entire time I have been reading them, I was wishing that I had seen all of these movies back in high school. There are so many movies; such as Crash, Freedom Writers, Slumdog Millionaire, and on and on...that have really changed my perspective and opened my eyes to different experiences and perspectives that I would never have been exposed to otherwise. Unless, you have the opportunity to travel and experience different countries and cultures firsthand- movies are really the best way to get that "experience" and gain an understanding. I grew up very sheltered and close minded--I was not exposed to much outside of my little 'bubble.' The world is huge and full of fascinating people and cultures--I also think you need to broaden your outlook and have experiences that make you uncomfortable in order to really get to know yourself better. I think documentaries would have a lasting impact, because they are true and it is real people experiencing real situations.