Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Why Some TV Shows and Movies are Good for Students

I spend much of my time coaching students to get them the best possible score on the SAT essay (the timed response-to-a-generic-prompt that has been part of the new SAT for the past several years). 

A couple of years ago, there was a prompt that related to reality television. Since most kids watch reality TV shows (indeed, most shows on the tube are "reality" based, and kids in general watch quite a bit of TV), most high school students in the USA were thrilled with this essay topic and found it relatively easy to respond to.

Not the type of students I teach. They were at a loss. No idea what to write. No clue. They floundered.

Why? Because they don't watch television. There is no TV viewing allowed in their homes. No movies, either. 

"Hey, most of us are Asian," one kid told me, shrugging his shoulders. "We don't do TV."

These students also don't know anything about classic films--ones I think they should watch, such as Apocalypse Now. I tell them to tell their parents there is some educational viewing out there; there are definitely movies they should see that will only enhance their understanding of the world, and increase their education.

When I say this, they look at me doubtfully, as if to say, "Our parents are never going to buy that."

So I have a list of things I think students should watch, either on TV or DVD. Maybe an official teacher list will help make the case. Or maybe it won't. I can only try.

And yes, reality television shows are on the list.  The CollegeBoard, maker of the SAT, has included a reality TV prompt twice now on the exam (they may not have it again, but you never really know).

My students need to understand the full gamut of what they may be asked to write about; they need to comprehend popular, cultural trends--if only to be able to rail against them. 

If there is anything in life we disagree with or eschew, we need to fully understand it first to be able to craft a compelling refutation. We need to know the other side's view in order to explain why it's bad, why it's wrong, or why it's a waste of our time.

That goes for any subject--whether it is politics, history, literary theory, or the vapidity of today's ubiquitous and cheap reality TV shows.


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