Sunday, September 14, 2008

AP Goes Hollywood...continued

Films We Can Use in AP Classes

A couple of summers ago at the Advanced Placement Government and Politics grading in Ft. Collins, Colorado, I sat with a group of college and high school instructors and chatted about video as an educational tool. The group collectively believed that video carefully used was an effective method of engaging some of the hard to reach students in either e-courses or in face-to-face classrooms. Here is a summary of that evening's discussion:

Hollywood loves the President, but often inaccurately. A couple of good flicks on the presidency are HBO's Truman (based on David McCullogh's book) and Oliver Stones's Nixon. With Truman, primary resources are found at the Truman Library site. Speeches, policy statements, and Presidential papers are easily accessed making unit building a snap.

Nixon is also brilliantly done, but always use caution with Oliver Stone's history. The Nixon Library online is a gold mine. On the topic of Nixon, All the President's Men is a classic. You can create a unit on the role of the press as "watchdog" as well as expand on Watergate. The Washington Post site is excellent to direct students or find teaching material. Interviews with Bob Woodward are also available on line.

If your clientale will tolerate R raged language Wag the Dog is a cynical look at Presidential misuse of office. It is not an acceptable film for high schoolers, but if you are teaching community college it seems to be a solid catalyst for discuss on government ethics (excuse the oxymoron). The president as crisis manager can be studied in the classic Missiles of October or you can opt for Kevin Costner's Thirteen Days. In either case, Robert Kennedy's book is good primary material.

If you have access to the West Wing on DVD, teaching moments are endless. On the lighter side of the topic, one could use Dave or the American President. The former really has limited teaching moments; the latter does get into the policy making cycle and the relationship between interest groups and policy.

Someone once said that there were two things you do not want to see made: sausage and laws. Hollywood picked up on that an has maded few films on Congress. I personally have used Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Filmed long before cloture rules, it is still not a bad look at Senate procedures. Born Yesterday (the remake) has some interesting moments concerning lobbying and ethics. I can't say it has much other value, but it does introduce students to DeTocqueville who is generously quoted throughout. Distinquished Gentleman is a fun flick, but very limited in educational value.

The Supreme Court lends itself to some good dramas. I mentioned Simple Justice last week. Several docudramas on the Brown case have been made, most are good. Gideon's Trumpet is a classic about the Gideon v. Wainwright case. Warren's decision, the peitition for writ of certiorari by Gideon, and Anthony Lewis' book (same title) are all excellent resources.

As far as trials and litigation, Run Away Jury (the bathroom scene with Hackman and Hoffman is worth the time) and A Civil Action are useable time permitting. These films highlight social/political/judicial issues of gun control and the environment. Twelve Angry Men is often mentioned in these discussions, but I do not feel it portrays juries accurately for the students.

Elections are of course popular Hollywood subjects. I have used The Candidate along with Joe McGinnis' book for years. Primary Colors is a thin guise of the '92 Clinton presidential primary, but again the language is highly inappropriate for a young audience. I wish there was a sanitized version of this film, but about the only way to do it is to hit MUTE.

Although this does not exhaust the discussion we had that summer evening, I will stop here. Feel free to chip in with your favorite films and their primary supporting materials. We would love to hear from you. In the mean time, I will be working on next week when I will be discussing the benefits of becoming an AP Reader. Until then...

1 comment:

Adrienne said...

One of my favorite videos to show is "Can Mr. Smith Go to Washington Anymore" it's a really good look at the life of a campaign and it has the added value of students watch a really young staff take a shot at a seat and all the work that goes into that.