Monday, May 14, 2012

The Only One: Pepsi and Morgan Freeman

I show only one movie to my history class.

(Despite conventional wisdom that says history teachers show a movie a week.) (Or daily.) (I like parentheses.)

Sure, I show clips from others.  I show the ten minute "Small House of Uncle Thomas," a Thai-style adaptation in "The King and I" to show the impact of Stowe's tale--plus it is unbelievably beautiful and exposes tragically literal students to another culture's spare, lovely sets and dancing. I show a few clips from "Roots":  Kunta on the slave ship, Chicken George finding one of the slain participants of Nat Turner's failed slave rebellion. I show some short pieces for fun--like JibJab's Founding Fathers Rap and Lin-Manuel Miranda's piece on Alexander Hamilton for President Obama.

Full disclosure:  if I am unexpectedly ill or don't have the time or brain to make lesson plans (as happened once when I got the sad phone call that my Nana had passed away and I was on a plane that day to be with the family), I will have the guest teacher show a stand-by video--either the appropriate volume of "Roots", or "Nightjohn" (soooo goood).

But movies are too long; kids' attention spans are too short; California's history standards are too plentiful; the state history test, inexorable. History movies in particular tend to be too violent, and Hollywood seems to think Americans need to watch other people having sex in every movie.

So: the only movie I show is Edward Zwick's "Glory." It is rated R, but God bless Pepsi--Pepsi issued an edited-for-classroom-use version and distributed them free to schools across the United States. One landed in my hands, because God loves me.

And despite the fact that I have seen this movie an average of five times a year for almost twenty years, I do not tire of it. I still tear up when the soldiers march through Boston for their send off. I still am struck with the weight of the story, the quality of the acting, the cinematography, the moving score.

And despite short attention spans and less and less background knowledge every year (today, S. gasped, "They had newspapers back then!?"), despite the fact that I have to wrestle them into paying full attention for the first day, by the end of the film I believe the kids are better people, deeper people, and Lord help us, better educated people.

(Plus Morgan Freeman's in it, so you know it's chock-full of avuncular goodness.)

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