Film Guides May Leave Students in the Dark Using 'Amistad,' 'Star Trek' in Lessons Raises Eyebrows

By Mark Clayton, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, February 12, 1998 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Film Guides May Leave Students in the Dark Using 'Amistad,' 'Star Trek' in Lessons Raises Eyebrows


Mark Clayton, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Gaynell Chiesa rarely gets to the movies. So the history teacher at Arcadia High School in Oak Hall, Va., was delighted when a study guide for "Amistad" prompted her to tell students to see the film and then discuss it in class.

"Students can't picture what happened," says the veteran teacher, who saw the film as a wonderful hook to teach about slavery. "But when they see a movie they have a vivid picture they remember."

Few teachers would disagree that a well-timed movie can be an energizing complement to a lecture or discussion. Study guides - provided free by film studios and educational companies - can help too, especially when teachers pick and choose the best elements, many say. Yet Hollywood's inroads into the classrooms via their gatekeepers - the teachers - have many observers worried. For every "Schindler's List," "Nixon," or "Amistad" study guide, studios are pitching guides for far lighter fare like "The Jetsons" or "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home." And they know their product has a powerful allure. "The power of Hollywood to stir adolescents into caring about history boggles my mind," says Derek Boles, head of English at Thornlea Secondary School in Thornhill, Ontario. "I've taught about the Titanic for more than 20 years and students have always been interested, but with the movie, they can't get enough." But Mr. Boles is hardly sanguine about the phenomenon. He is troubled by teachers who show movies without any context. Movies' legitimacy as a teaching tool may be further undermined by what observers say is a proliferation of guides for films that have little to do with academics. "For us it's about learning," says Elissa Greer, vice president of publicity for New Line Cinema, which has promoted "Gettysburg," "The War," "Now and Then," and others using well-regarded study guides. "That's the purpose of the guide. Of course, you hope it will send people to go buy a ticket. But even if it doesn't, we hope people will learn something." New Line's latest guide: "Lost in Space." Some baby boomers may remember TV's "Lost in Space" series as a camp sci-fi melodrama involving a family stranded on a planet. Now a feature film, the guide trumpets it as having scientific value. The guide to "Lost in Space" involves a series of science exercises focusing on "Designing the Robinson Station Habitat:" "How big should your colony be ... if materials, air, and energy will be at a severe premium?" "How much room does a person need in order to be able to function - to live, work, sleep, and play?" "Amistad," by contrast, was positioned as a serious historical film. Even so, the film provoked spirited debate over historical flaws. The study guide refers frequently to Theodore Joadson, identified in the teacher's guide as "a composite of African-American abolitionist activity in the early 19th century." The character, played by Morgan Freeman, has fictional conversations with John Quincy Adams that are quoted in the guide. The conversations are not identified as hypothetical. "I thought the marketing of 'Amistad' was a new low," says New York Post film critic Michael Medved in an interview. "They sent it out to schools because it was an international historical incident.... But in the study guide they made no distinction between fictional or real characters or between actual and invented dialogue.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Film Guides May Leave Students in the Dark Using 'Amistad,' 'Star Trek' in Lessons Raises Eyebrows
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?