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I Learned It at the Movies--Hollywood as a Teacher

Even films that are historically inaccurate can be a valuable teaching tool

So should films be banned from the classroom? Not necessarily, and here’s why. As the psychologists reported in September in the journal Psychological Science, a good teacher can trump a movie’s shortcomings. They found that when teachers gave the very detailed warnings about inaccuracies in the film version, the students got it. But those warnings had to be extremely precise, something such as: “Pay attention when you watch the film, and you’ll see that the filmmaker has changed the nationality of the hero from French to American, which is not the way it was.” With such warnings, the students apparently “tagged” the information as false in their memories—and remembered the accurate version when quizzed later on.

In this sense, a movie’s distorted version of history can be used as a teachable moment. Students learn the truth by identifying the mistakes and labeling them, so their takeaway learning is: the film says this, but in fact it’s that. Not a bad way to learn, assuming the classroom teacher knows enough to point out what’s this and that.

(Further Reading)

  • Using Popular Films to Enhance Classroom Learning: The Good, the Bad, and the Interesting. Andrew C. Butler, Franklin M. Zaromb, Keith B. Lyle and Henry L. Roediger III in Psychological Science, Vol. 20, No. 9, pages 1161–1168; September 2009.

This article was originally published with the title "We're Only Human: I Learned It at the Movies."

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