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Education Reporter

Are R-Rated Movies 'Educational'?
Schools around the nation are incorporating film features and clips — including some R-rated movies — into all kinds of classes in the name of "visual literacy." Broadly defined, visual literacy is the idea that kids need to be able to interpret the images and sounds prevalent in our multi-media society and to communicate with others using those tools.

Restriced In many schools, however, it seems that "visual literacy" is also a handy term to justify showing films that include nudity, gratuitous violence, sex, drug use, misogyny and extremely foul language. "The world kids are now being educated in is very different from the 1960s/70s," said Joy McClendon, director of elementary education and curriculum services for the Council Rock School District (CRSD) in southeastern Pennsylvania. "The educational value is worth more than the violence or brief nudity."

But Council Rock parent Diana Nolan strongly disagrees. "I want to raise my son to be a gentleman, and that's far more important than watching a movie in a classroom," said Nolan. She first became aware of the issue in 2006 when her son brought home a permission slip to watch The Merchant of Venice in his sophomore English class.

The consent form stated that the film contained mild violence and partial nudity, and the teacher explicitly told Nolan there was nudity in the background of only one scene. Upon viewing the film herself, Nolan counted ten nude scenes, including two in a brothel. Much to her son's embarrassment, Nolan did not sign the permission slip. She eventually started Parents Active in Responsible Education (PARE) when district officials refused to stop showing R-rated films that Nolan says include rape, incest, suicide, and excessive profanity.

Another member of PARE, William Winkeler, cited the CRSD's choice of Roman Polanski's 1972 adaptation of Macbeth as an example of "visual literacy gone wild." He said there are at least 13 screen performances of Macbeth available, yet the district approved the version that contains the most graphic nudity and violence.

The district has approved about 50 R-rated movies for classroom viewing, including Garden State (drug use and sexuality), Elizabeth (violence and sexuality), and V for Vendetta (violence, strong language, and contemptuous portrayal of Christian faith).

A Studies in Sexuality class in the CRSD uses movies with graphic portrayals of sex, drug use, violence and nudity, including Kids, Requiem for a Dream, and Crash. According to PARE, students must have special permission to take this class, but the district policy of obtaining parental permission to view R-rated films has not always been sought.

Council Rock superintendent Mark J. Klein and school board member Jerold S. Grupp continue to support the use of R-rated movies as an appropriate education aid. Grupp said that "Choosing to ban [all the R-rated movies approved for use in CRSD] would be like banning the artwork of Michelangelo . . . or Rembrandt."

Parents in other states have also gotten wise to the cinematic filth being passed off as "educational" in their local schools. Last year, Marysville Exempted Village School District in Ohio responded to parental complaints by temporarily suspending the showing of PG-13 and R-rated films. Later, the district revised its policy to require parental permission.

In 2008, parent protests prompted Wisconsin's Brookfield East High School to strengthen the notification policy the following year. Parental notification was extended to two weeks, and parents are now asked to sign a permission slip.

Recently the head of the Republic School District in Missouri, Vern Minor, suggested that the district review the appropriateness of movies shown in classrooms there. He may want to take a look at research released last year by Dartmouth Medical School as part of the district's evaluation.

Dartmouth researchers surveyed more than 6,000 youth several times over two years, and found that kids who regularly watch R-rated movies take risks ranging from violence to alcohol abuse. "The message to parents is clear," said researcher and pediatrician James D. Sargent, "Under 17 should not be permitted to see R-rated movies."

The study found R-rated movies "jack up the sensation-seeking tendency, which makes adolescents more prone to engage in all sorts of risky behaviors," said Sargent. The most striking finding was the impact of the movies on kids who previously did not show signs of sensation seeking. While high sensation seekers are already prone to high-risk behavior, exposure to R-rated movies "can make a low sensation-seeking adolescent drink like a high sensation-seeking adolescent," said Sargent.

(USA Today, 8-19-11; Buck County Courier Times, 1-12-10; Lehigh Valley Commentator, Issue #13; dms.dartmouth.edu, 3-12-10)
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