It seems that a 12 year old and her guardians are suing the girl’s Chicago school district because a substitute teacher showed the film Brokeback Mountain to an 8th grade class. They’re asking for $500,000 in damages. Half a million, People. Seriously.
Now, if it’s true that the school did not have parental permission to show the film, which is rated R, then there should be some repercussions. Unless your audience is over 17 and understands that they are free to leave the showing at any time with impunity, it is unreasonable and irresponsible to show an R rated movie in class. When I worked in a public school, we were required to send home permissions slips to parents before showing anything that wasn’t rated G. Not only that, we were required to state, on the permission form, the reasons we felt that the film was important to the lessons we were teaching at the time; we had to make the case for the relevance of the film as part of an academic unit. I think this is entirely fair and rational.
I also think that there are a lot of good arguments for showing films in the classroom, and that a lot of really great, classroom-appropriate films – most of them, really – are rated R. I also happen to think that Brokeback Mountain is an exquisite film that would have a great deal of value as part of a language arts or social studies curriculum. Since the article doesn’t state anything beyond the plaintiff’s perspective, I don’t know what the point of the film was in the class. I don’t know what class the movie was shown in and I don’t know what academic justification was used to show it. I wish I did, but the (poor) journalism in the news report isn’t giving me any clues.
I don’t think that the substitute should have shown the film without being certain that the appropriate permission forms were completed and in hand. Having said that, I also think that it’s absolutely preposterous that this 12 year old was so incredibly damaged by the film that she requires therapy and half a million to make her all better.
My humble assessment is that there are no blameless parties in this story. The school should have been more responsible about getting parental permission before showing the film. The guardians of this girl should have been more vigilant about what was happening in the classroom (and, I think, should have been more responsible about teaching her enough so that a tastefully scripted and acted film didn’t scar her for life, but that’s fodder for another post). My sincere hope is that whatever judge ends up with this nonsense on her docket has the good sense to give both parties a slap on the wrist and send them all home.