Documentaries in the Classrooms

Stoddard, J. D. (2009). The Ideological Implications of Using “Educational” Film to Teach Controversial Events. Curriculum Inquiry, 39.

Article Review
Fiction and documentary films have become popular pedagogical media in the classrooms. They engage students in important social and historical events. Echoing this trend, many film websites create accompanied curriculum guides for educators. While the visual power of fiction and documentary films seems obvious, less is known about the nature of teaching and learning with documentary films, especially those addressing contentious social issues. Stoddard’s (2009) in-depth qualitative study provides insight as to how history teachers selected and used, and how students in their classes learned from and responded to documentary films. The pedagogical uses of two documentaries,Hiroshima and Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam, were examined closely in this paper. Stoddard (2009) found that both educators faced the dilemma of creating a deliberative dialogue yet emphasizing certain moral perspectives that are revealed in the documentaries and aligned with both educators’ own views. While this is not a tension only occurring in teaching with documentaries but in any class addressing contentious social issues in general, teaching with documentaries definitely makes it more complex because of the mediated perspectives brought up by the documentaries. Another crucial finding is that both educators and many students view documentaries as a neutral historical source, rather than the medium with value-laden perspectives. This finding deserves attention because without completely understanding the nature of documentaries as narrative that reflects producer’s views on social issues, teaching with it might confine students understanding of important historical events.

Edlab Connection
Incorporating films and documentaries in the classrooms is a promising direction to new learning. Teaching the Levees, HBO Social Justice Curriculum Project, and the currently grant project Let Freedom Swing (which addresses the connection between Jazz and Democracy in the United States) are some of the efforts in this direction at Edlab. Findings from this paper suggest that, aside from developing rich resources to accompany major themes of the documentaries, emphasis on documentaries as a value-laden medium is also an important component as we develop online resources for various documentaries. The Media Show provides rich resources for educators and students to learn media literacy in this aspect.