Yes and No

images1.jpegIt 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.

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8 Comments

Filed under concerns, General Griping, Questions, Uncategorized

8 responses to “Yes and No

  1. I would be curious to know if the substitute selected this movie, or if the teacher who actually is assigned that class picked it. As far as I know, the substitute isn’t allowed to deviate from the teacher’s plans unless they can prove it necessary.

  2. I have a 12 year old that I would not allow to watch that movie. I’ve seen it, I know his maturity level, he is not ready. That being said, as a parent, I would have opted out of the permission.

    Now this isn’t an obscure little art house movie that no one really knows much about. It was an extremely controversial movie (at least in some parts of the country), so I would hope the teacher(s) involved had the good sense to make sure the proper permissions were obtained.

    And, no, I would not sue, either.

  3. I too saw this article today. Based on the article, it seemed to me that the movie was chosen by the substitute because she’s being named in the lawsuit. Attached with the quote:

    “What happens in Ms. Buford’s class stays in Ms. Buford’s class”

    – I’m also slightly disturbed with the fact that a teacher would tell her students this. I get the impression that the substitute wasn’t entirely comfortable showing the movie, yet went ahead and did it anyway, hoping the students wouldn’t tell anybody about it. Could she really be that naive?

  4. Yeah, ‘Bugs – I want to know that, too. Actually, there’s a lot about this story that I want to know more about; the article was pathetically thin in the information department.
    SaintSeester, I agree; I’ve seen the movie, too – hell, I own it – but I wouldn’t show it to a group of middle schoolers. I might be inclined to try to show it to seniors, but only after having read Annie Proulx’s short story (which I also have in my possession). The focus of the lesson would likely be the interpretation of the story, and how the students’ orignial reading of it was reflected – or not – by the film. Having said that, I wouldn’t show it without parental permission, and would have a back-up plan in place for those students whose parents say no.
    Seth, yes, it’s possible for a teacher to be that naive. I mean, come on; haven’t you encountered staggering incompetence in your professional dealings? There’s SO much about this story that just doesn’t sound right to me, either, but that this would happen doesn’t really surprise me.
    I really do hate making comments and judgements based on the little information we’re getting about the story. I think that’s why I’m hedging on both sides, here; I don’t think that anyone’s right, but I can’t tell who was less right from the information I’ve been given thus far.

  5. sphyrnatude

    OOOOOH! there’s gonna be a rant on this one (coming soon to a blog near you!)
    Anyway, the way I see it, there are two issues: first, whoever decided to show this movie was out of line. Not because the movie itself is bad, or contains subjects that middle school kids don’t know about, or because it exposes the kids to something that they don’t already see on TV or in the movies. The decision was bad because the decider (no not THAT idiot “decider”, THIS one), failed to take ito account the fact that showing a controversial movie in a school would cause problems. Heck, there are schools that are not teaching Holocaust history because it “might offend individuals who are taught the Holocaust did not occur”. Yep. Right here in the good ‘ol Freedom of Speech USA. Offense-sensitivity is what Berk Breathed called it….
    The more disturbing issue is that this kid’s parents think that the proper reaction is to sue for $500K. This shows a couple of things: first, the kid’s folks are obviously more concerned about either squashing the movie, causing major problems for the school/teachers involved, or looking for some easy cash. Does anyone really believe that a middle school kid would be harmed by being shown this movie? If so, do you think that splashing it all over the media, dragging it through the courts and making a circus of it will actually *help* the kid? Maybe a better solution would have been to have a discussion with the kid, the Pricnicpal (and maybe the school board), and let the issue pass. What are the chances that this kid would even *remember* the movie in a couple years if her folks had taken a quiet approach. Of course, now that the Circus is open, the kid will never forget… Of course, a quiet, rational approach has no chance of scoring mom and dad a cool couple hundred K…
    Lets hope that the judge in this case is rational enough to dope-slap this kids parents right out of the courtroom. I don’t expect (s)he will, but we can hope….

  6. Organic Mama

    There seems to be a flagrant lack of sense in some of this, and you’ve (all ) tackled the main issues. The grandfather/guardian had apparently complained when this kid was in the sixth grade, over swear words in the chosen literature he said offended their faith. Brokeback, he said, was the last straw, but half a million? Righteous indignation obscures rational thought! This is so asinine as to be laughable. Apologies, perhaps, additional counseling certainly, but this? This gaurdian has his horse up so high, he may just get his neck broken in the fall to come, when I dearly hope the judge in this case upbraids this man for his greed and gall.

  7. Brokeback Mountain should not be shown in school, as much as I found it a profoundly beautiful film. Kids can watch it on their own.

    The lawsuit is a treasure hunt that should be slapped down.

    That’s it.

  8. Pingback: half a million bucks for showing a kid a movie! « The Anonymous SoapBox

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