School proposal would ban all but G-rated films

The Federal Way School Board could effectively end the practice of showing films in school if it approves a policy to ban anything but G-rated movies.

That decision could end Pam Ashe’s whole class.

She teaches a popular senior elective class at Federal Way High School called Film as Literature, and about the only section of her curriculum that is rated G is the animation, she said.

The board is considering language that would end school principals’ authority to approve a film with anything but a G (general audience) rating, despite educational value.

Current district policy prohibits R-rated films at school, but grants principals the authority to allow them if teachers can show an appropriate academic benefit to the students.

Randy Nickels said his family — his oldest child is a freshman in college and his youngest is a kindergartener — decided not to watch R-rated movies, so he was disturbed when he discovered his children could see them in school.

He took his complaint to the School Board to see the district ban R-rated movies from classrooms.

Andy Cameron, head of Federal Way High’s social studies department, said films can be an effective tool for grabbing student attention.

Movies are shown mostly in history and social studies classes, and English classes to a lesser degree, to give students a surrogate reality of the distant topics they read about in their textbooks.

As it happens, most of what students of United States and world history study is war, violence and oppression.

Federal Way High students have seen “Schindler’s List,” “Glory,” “Dead Man Walking,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (to illustrate the Red Scare), “Spartacus,” “An American President” and “Forrest Gump.”

Sometimes the content is violent (“Schindler’s List” is rated R, and the ghetto massacre scene is gruesome and disturbing), but images realistically depicting what happens in a war makes a stronger impact on students, movie proponents argue.

“We’re not a G-rated world,” Cameron said.

Decatur High School senior Randy Wyatt criticized the proposed policy change during a board meeting Monday.

“Part of the point of seeing a film is to show the reality of what happened,” he said. “It opens (students’) eyes.”

Ashe’s seniors learn to deconstruct films in her Film as Literature class. She also teaches a fiction class and a creative writing class, but she said the discussion in the film class are much more lively — and she has to do considerably less hand-holding to get her students to the point.

“Everybody’s engaged. Everyone has an opinion,” she said.

Maybe it’s bad that kids in her classes tell her they don’t like reading — some have told her they’ve never read an entire book — but students today have more options, she said.

“They’re not really motivated to read when, given the level of technology they live under, they have other ways to get information,” she said.

In her class, students watch war movies — “Saving Private Ryan,” “The Patriot” and “Das Boot” — and discuss the difference in perspective between the victor and the loser.

They learn about rhetoric and subliminal messaging in movies, about how passive audiences come away from films with perspective changes.

Ashe said her class has value.

“I think that’s important in developing skills as higher-level thinkers, to critically analyze rather than just accept things,” she said.

District policy requires teachers to send home a permission slip before students can watch a video in class. Cameron and Decatur principal Gerry Millett said teachers are responsible about doing that, but Nickels claims it doesn’t always happen.

Besides, students can forge their parents’ signatures, said board president Earl Van Dorien.

If parents decline to let their child watch the movie, district policy requires that the student will be offered an equally educational experience as an alternative, like a reading assignment or doing research on the Internet.

Nickels said that also doesn’t always happen. He said the burden rests entirely with parents to opt out their children, who then have to go to another room to engage in alternative work. There’s a stigma to being one of the only kids to stand up and leave the room, he said.

It’s hard for district administrators to enforce what students are watching in class, he said. Unless kids come home and tell their parents they watched a film, parents might not even know, he contended.

Still, Cameron said he has concerns about taking away the opportunity for all kids for the benefit of a few.

“There is a range of opinions,” he said. “But I get worried when students and parents on one side of the spectrum aren’t given the choice.”

Staff writer Erica Jahn can be reached at 925-5565 and

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