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R-Rated Videos in Class: Should High School Teachers Have the Option?

A high school teacher in Mississippi has been fired for showing the R-rated film Dolan's Cadillac, based on a Stephen King short story, to her 10th grade English classes, reports Yahoo! Shine. There has been a tremendous backlash to her ousting, with students insisting that the woman, a 19-year veteran of the classroom, was a fine teacher. The parent who complained to the school district about the film claims that other students are now threatening her children. One of her children, who is Asian-American, allegedly complained to her about "anti-Asian slurs" that occurred in the movie.

Does showing an R-rated movie, especially one that has a direct link to subject material, warrant the dismissal of an experienced teacher?

As a high school social studies teacher I know firsthand the challenges of finding acceptable, wholesome movies that will also hold the attentions of jaded teenagers. In a day when teens can find unspeakable things on the Internet and have likely seen more R- (and X-) rated movies than the teachers, how are educators supposed to avoid boring their students to tears? When I taught World History and Government it was hard to find good, educational films that were not rated R.

Oh, sure, you could show an R-rated film...if you could get a signature from the parent or guardian of every single student, that is. How likely is that in a classroom of thirty students, especially when at least three are absent on any given day? Basically, you're never going to get permission to show the good stuff. The hard-hitting, critically-acclaimed stuff is, you guess it, rated R.

Most teachers show pre-screened segments of R-rated films to get around the blanket ban. They edit out the bad stuff, showing the students the powerful moments and hopefully avoiding any F-bombs or nipples. Fortunately, now that I teach economics, I rarely get chances to show movies anyways, saving me from the conundrum.

But the educational video clips on YouTube? Boooooorrrriiiiinggggg. Students might pay attention more if they got to see Wall Street, Margin Call, or The Wolf of Wall Street.

In light of the fact that so many teens have virtually unrestricted Internet access, should we call on school districts to end blanket bans on high school teachers showing R-rated movies? I understand how, in 1994, when few teenagers had Internet access, parents could claim they had firm control over what their children viewed and that said children would be harmed by exposure to non-PG material. In 2014 that case is hard to make. By now your kid has already seen X-rated stuff streamed from a friend's smartphone.

High school teachers, already fighting to hold the attention of Internet-saturated teens, should have more flexibility in selecting educational films. Approval should be available from a department head or assistant principal, not the district office after the impossible task of getting thirty parent signatures has been accomplished. If a student is offended by a film the film should be banned from future viewing and an effort should be made at student-teacher reconciliation and understanding, not immediately firing the teacher.

Giving more autonomy to classroom teachers and department heads will increase the number of worthwhile, critically-acclaimed films that students will learn from and enjoy watching. Many R-rated war movies are excellent for high school sophomores studying World History. Many R-rated period dramas are perfect for high school juniors studying World History. Many political dramas are great for high school seniors studying Government. Sticking with PG-rated films leaves these teens glassy-eyed and apathetic, learning little and tuning out of pre- and post-film instruction.

Additionally, student academic performance might be enhanced in many classes if the teacher can use a popular film as a motivator. "If you do well at __________ we can watch _[ insert popular R-rated, critically-acclaimed drama ] . If not, we can watch __[ insert boring, hokey, PG-rated educational "movie" ] ." The kids will do their work in order to avoid being stuck with the thirty-year-old educational "movie" on VHS tape.

Don't believe me? Ask your teen.

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