Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Seinfeld Is No Laughing Matter

This last year I have been assigned to teach a Spanish class. Now this wouldn’t be a problem if I was fluent in Spanish. However, going to a Portuguese speaking mission isn’t necessarily the best qualifications for the job. For those who jaws are now on the floor, welcome to the world of rural teaching. Add in 3 new courses, each of which requires a solid hour a day to prep, add in “voluntary” extra curricular work, and other sundry positions, and time is pretty busy. Of course, I am sure it is similar to what most people now days seem to be doing. However, in this career, with no advancement possible, the extra effort one puts relies almost exclusively on intrinsic motivation. Hence today when I got a complaint from two parents I was pretty miffed.

Obviously in a school setting there are always things that aren’t very appropriate. After searching high and low for 30 min videos that had a Spanish audio track (in Canada everything is only in French), I had pretty much given up on finding anything interesting and costing under $300 – at least with the time I had to ferret out deals.

While on a recent trip to the states, I had bought a Bullwinkle DVD and some other Spanish cartoons. For one reason or another, these didn’t work as a classroom aid. A number of students suggested DVD’s that they had recently bought. With prime time shows being pretty much all one can buy on DVD, I thought I would give it a try. I took a look through the Seinfeld series, and found the most innocuous episode I could find, The Library. Aside from Kramer flirting with the Librarian, this show is pretty mild. I also figured things would get watered down for the kids as they watched it is Spanish. it seemed to fit in quite nicely with some lessons we had on figurative vs. literal translations.

Next week we watched a Friends episode. Now, I don’t like Friends very much, and was leery about showing one. However, we have a number of smokers in class, and I figured the episode on Rachael trying to smoke to fit in at work would be a good multi-use of class time. Again, this was not an episode with sexual innuendos or crass jokes. However, I got a couple of forthright complaints from parents that day, on the moral degeneracy I was teaching. Now I can see people suggested that this may not be appropriate for class, but supporting moral degeneracy? Come on. I won’t get into the nit picky details to try and defend myself. However, it does annoy me that some people take such a prideful stance based on reasoning that may be faulty. After all if I told my kids that watching the 10:00 news was evil, chances are if they saw it in school they would think it was the most offensive thing ever, regardless of the content.

Now I can understand how difficult it is to keep kids away from many aspects of society. I can also understand how frustrating it is to have that stance breached at every opportunity. But doesn’t there come a point where the level of segregation one seeks turns every exposure into a conflict?

I think this recent drudge headline sums up some of the consequences I see happening as a result of this type of correctness.


chris g said...

I guess the big thing that was annoying me was the perceived level of pride and smugness that seems to go when others are labelled incorrect. I try really hard to make sure to look for everyone's perspective. I guess this is one of the reasons I am glad there are so many wars and rather nasty things happening in the BOM and other scriptures. I think the some of the things there don't sit too high up in the moral cleanliness department. At least for me, this means that the gospel is about more than just a manual to tell people item A is evil, item B is good.

Personally, I like the Savior's whole stance on the issue. He seemed to come down pretty hard on both sides that thought they knew how people should behave. Again, I think this means we need to learn how to appreciate all the temporal experiences that are around us. However, I do find this rather at odd with the Peculiar People theme that seems to pop up.

Clark Goble said...

So I guess that class using Spielberg's AI is off, eh?

chris g said...

No, I am still doing AI. Obviously I will cut out a lot of Rouge City. I have a month's worth of class work in it, and I can't back out now. Obviously I will cut out many of the rouge city parts. However, I think that with the stance it takes against sensuality, it is similar to the morality debates involving the old testament or book of mormon. So far many of the kids have found it wierd and slighlty disturbing, but the movie is so strong in its literary, cinematic and dramitc elements, that I don't think I coudl find anything else nearly as powerful - well at least one that is appropriate for school and has a stong theme. Plus, the film is really opening their eyes to muliple layers of interpretation.

I think the problem that many have is that they can't see past the obvious. For instnace, the Flesh Fair isn't just about violence. Most people watch much more violent things on TV, yet don't think twice about it because it is used as entertainment rather than the flesh out issues of morality. I think watching the movie with them helps them to see that. For instance, we discussed why they were so glad David escaped. We came to the conlusion that the intense feelings in the flesh fair made it impossible to sit on the fence regarding our interest in him. At that point he became fully real to the audience. To me, it is very interesting that the sensuality of rouge city comes next.

As for choosing other movies, this is tough. Ender's Game is often derided by one or two parents for its language. Yes, it is rather hard to fathom. However, the same people that complain about this have a hard time understanding that the things they would pick in its stead would be just as offensive to other people in the class. For instance, many Disney movies would be just as offensive to the class as was Seinfeld. Sure some would be happy, but I know of a number who would also cringe. After all, many of the students do live in what they percieve to be an oppressed culture (non-mormon). Just becuase something is percieved to be more moral doesn't make it any less offensive. I have tried to take a stance that what is important is following what I have been instructed to teach. However many people are at odds with this.

If one of the requirements of education is to get people thinking out of the box, exposing them to new ideas, how do you do this when some parents prefer sequesting their kids? Obviously home school is an option, however, I think a big part of the problem is gap that exists between what some parents want and what society wants to enforce to make up for some parents. Usually we have no trouble pushing society's wants ahead of "trailer trash" type individuals, yet when the same situation arises in another context, somehow things become more grey. Personally I think it arises due to the fact that no one ever wants to admit that view points they deride are even permissable. After all the government can't see mee as a "trailer trash" parent whose kids need Orwellian re-education.

Anonymous said...

On subject but off, sort of: I recently came across this site:

It is a good resource for anyone wanting to improve their language skills or possibly learn a new language. Being that you're in a rural area, I am not sure of availability of computers in the classroom, (and the fact that the website is a public resource not monitored by an agency) it may or may not be helpful to you or your students. But at least now you know it's there.


chris g said...

Thanks cooper. I looked at the site, and it seems like it could be useful. It will take me a few days before I can find the time to see how things go with it. It looks to be a good resource for me - perhaps even more than it would to the students.

I have been using studyspanish.com a fair bit. That is an excellent resource. I like how it has links to Spanish language newspapers.