The Ideological Implications of Using 'Educational' Film to Teach Controversial Events

Jun. 25, 2009

Source: Curriculum Inquiry, Volume 39 Issue 3, pages 407 – 433 (June 2009).

Use of media in today's classrooms, from feature and documentary film to news clips streamed via the Web, has grown exponentially. Film can be a powerful medium for teaching and learning, but is often viewed as a neutral source of information. This collective case study focuses on two teachers who use documentary film to teach about controversial events.
The goal of the study is to better understand teacher selection and use of film as part of pedagogy and the experiences of students who are engaged in deliberative activities with film. In this case, teachers utilized film to help students examine two controversial events in U.S. history, the use of atomic weapons against Japan at the end of World War II and the role of the United States in Vietnam. These cases illustrate a tension that many teachers, who want to engage students in deliberative activities but who also want students to adopt particular moral or political stances, face in today's classrooms.

The teachers in these cases utilize film as a neutral source for students to use as evidence for taking a position, despite the value-laden perspectives included in the films. These perspectives aligned with the teachers' own political beliefs. Other findings include student inability to recognize the perspectives in documentary films, the epistemic stances of teachers and students that documentaries are accurate and neutral, and the characteristics of students who are better equipped to recognize ideological perspectives. Implications for teachers, teacher educators, and especially democratic and social studies education researchers are examined.

Updated: Jul. 06, 2009