Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Teaching Today

While sitting in my dentist office last week I picked up a copy of Maclean's magazine, essentially a Canadian version of Time magazine. As I flipped through the magazine one article in particular caught my attention. The headline was as follows, "Watch and learn, kids". The article discussed the role movies and films have taken in Ontario classrooms over recent years.

Films have long since had a place in the classroom. Educational films have been around since the cliche "duck and cover" videos distributed in the 1950s. However, according to the article and my own anecdotal experience, Hollywood films are increasingly present in the classroom. Films are intended, or at least should be intended to supplement lessons, not provide them. Romeo + Juliet, the Leonardo Dicaprio version, provides additional insight, but in no way should replace the classic text in English classrooms.

The worst offender, according to the Maclean's article, is geography classrooms where films like The Day After Tomorrow are shown. The film has no basis in scientific fact, and teaches nothing of value. Movies nowadays are used as tools to help control classes, as the carrot to reward good behaviour. There's nothing necessarily wrong with this as a concept except that films eat up an extraordinary amount of class time given the length of the films and the periods. In classes of specialized study, like geography, playing a 2-hour movie can cut considerably into the percentage of time for that subject in a semester.

As a future educator I can see the value in using videos in the classroom, but I cannot truly see the value in watching a film that has no connection to the material you are teaching. There would be nothing wrong, in my opinion if in a history class you played the first few minutes of Saving Private Ryan to illustrate the invasion of Normandy on D-Day, or in Enemy at the Gates for the fierceness of the Eastern Front.

Students should not have to be openly bribed to pay attention and work in class. Films are being misused by some teachers in my opinions to give themselves a break, which though understandable may be inappropriate.

A documentary is soon to be realized called Waiting for "Superman". The film focuses on the plight in the modern American educational system. I strongly urge you to watch the trailer. While it's easy for us here in Canada to get up on our high horse and look down at the Americans two important ideas are key to keep in mind. One, trends tend to match our continental neighbours. What happens in one tends to exist in the other, so we may be about to plunge with the Americans in quality of education. Second, apathy is a recipe for failure. The system of education and standards of teaching must constantly be revised.

I worry that our system of education in Ontario (and most of Canada) protects teachers and their interests than those of their students. It's not enough to be qualified, you have to be compassionate and caring enough to really make a difference. I've worked with some amazing, and a few bad teachers, and some definitely give the impression of coasting through their lessons and just letting the chips fall where they may. I suppose the first step is to try, both students and teacher for real learning to occur, save the blockbusters for the weekend.

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