Governor’s Scholars learn through film
Watching movies is an American pastime. But for high school juniors spending five weeks with the Governor’s Scholars Program on Centre’s campus this summer, watching films has become an integral part of their learning experience.
Scholars have the opportunity to watch twelve films over the course of the summer — including everything from “Mad Hot Ballroom Dancing” to “Blood Diamond” to “Who Killed the Electric Car?” to “Cool Hand Luke.” With films ranging from documentaries to old classics to recent independents, students are being exposed to a wide array of characters and situations — and can learn from what they see onscreen.
Scholars enroll in both General Studies and Focus Area classes at GSP. Focus Areas meet for more than ten hours a week and are considered the Scholars’ majors, while General Studies meet for half of that time and are considered a minor. When they apply to GSP, Scholars select three Focus Areas they have an interest in, and are assigned to one of those. Scholars are placed randomly into their General Studies classes, however, giving them the chance to explore an area of study they might not have come across on their own.
Maria Kennedy ’11, who is teaching a General Studies course—“Rabble Rousers and Rebellion”—is screening four films over the course of the five weeks.
“I chose the films for my class based on the fact that they all had to do with American socio-political efforts for change, they all represent different ideas and strategies for change, and they all highlight different groups and movements,” Kennedy explains.
Kennedy selected “Iron-Jawed Angels,” an HBO film about the American womens’ suffrage campaign, because it “highlights the concept of the ‘fiction of unity’ within socio-political movements, which is something we’ve talked about in class a bit,” she says.
Kennedy is also showing “Milk,” the recently released Oscar-winning film, that highlights the beginnings of the American gay rights movement.
“It is a perfect example of someone who sought election to political office in the hopes of instigating change from the inside,” Kennedy says.
Alternately, the documentary “Weather Underground” portrays a domestic terrorist group that resorts to violence as its means of making a change, while “The Political Dr. Seuss” portrays how Theodor Geisel infused his children’s books with political messages. Kennedy says she hopes that her students will come away from that film with an understanding that children’s literature can be used as a methodology of change.
Bill Randall is teaching two classes at GSP this summer: a Focus Area on Cultural Anthropology, with a concentration on East Asian cultures, as well as a General Studies class called “The Shape of Things.” He is screening films in both.
“In my Focus Area class this week, we watched ‘Late Spring,’ a 1949 masterpiece by OZU Yasujiro. It’s a home drama focused on a young woman living with her widowed father as he frets that she’s unmarried,” Randall says. “It’s a quiet film, just people living their normal lives trying to forget that a war was just on, with an inevitable, sad, and beautiful ending.”
Randall screened “Late Spring” as a contrast to a “rather creaky” American anthropological study of Japan called “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.”
“The film demonstrates the tension between ‘giri’—social duty and ‘ninjou’—personal desire in perfectly composed, beautifully lit shots,” says Randall.
For his course on “The Shape of Things,” Randall has screened two films: “Seven Days”—a sixteen-minute art film featuring time-lapse photography of a Scottish moor over seven days—as well as Buster Keaton’s “Sherlock Jr.,” which “uncovers the formal and metaphorical qualities of the film medium using trick photography, visual puns, and tiny Buster jumping off a building for comic effect,” Randall says.
No matter what kind of learning device being used, Scholars at GSP at Centre are constantly exploring new areas of study—within the classroom and without.