I grew up in a fairly liberal area of the United States in an affluent suburb. Many of my teachers, especially my senior year of high school, felt that watching R-rated movies would be beneficial to our education. So in at least three of my classes, we spent the better part of a week watching R-rated movies in 45-minute segments for each class period. My modern literature class watched two or three of these movies over the course of the semester. Since I opted out of watching the movies, I spent those class periods in the library, reading books and watching other movies with similar themes in order to fill out my education.
I believed then as I do now that I received a better education than my classmates. Who really learned to think critically in those situations? Who came to actually understand the themes of isolation and being ostracized? Who was required to take ownership of her education? My classmates were always supportive; I had a good peer group who had grown up with me and who understood and defended my religious convictions and standards. My teachers, on the other hand, were not so accommodating—of course they didn’t outright say, “Hannah, we think you’re backwards, old-fashioned, living in a naïve past, and without this critical cultural exposure you’ll probably bring shame to our whole community.” They said something more like, “If any of you are uncomfortable watching this movie, we’ll find an alternate assignment for you.” But in such a hollow way that you knew they didn’t expect any of their 18-year-old, legal adult students to actually leave. So when I did, the raised eyebrows and the disengaged shrugs made their thoughts clear.
I think most of them were just perturbed that a student was exercising the right to an opinion contrary to the teacher’s. In my refusal to watch the movies, I communicated that I didn’t approve of the way they were choosing to teach. I can’t blame them for taking that personally—I would, too. And then of course, after class, my friends would summarize for me what had happened in the film. I could tell they were torn between wanting to validate the teacher’s choice and wanting to make me feel like I hadn’t actually missed out on too much.
Do I think there’s a place in education for controversial media and exposure to the grittier side of life? Definitely. What would be the point of education if it merely reinforced the ideas we already accept? But such exposure must be handled with reason and balance if it is to enhance our education. Perhaps watching Pan’s Labyrinth or V for Vendetta would have been an important stepping stone in my intellectual development, perhaps not—either way, at what cost? Do we sacrifice religious standards for the sake of education? Do we sacrifice educational pursuits for the sake of religion? (Spoiler: I don’t think it’s a zero sum game AT ALL. I just like asking obnoxious questions sometimes.)
In my next post or two, I aim to explore some of the issues revolving around what I’ll call our “educational exposure.” I hope you’ll contribute with your comments and stay tuned as we try to unravel some of these knots. As always, thanks for reading!