Tag Archives: Romeo + Juliet

The Hunger Games: Teaching Youth Addicted to Violence

by Christopher Paslay

While teachers should work to make lessons interesting, schools must hold fast to academic rigor and fight to undo the negative effects violence is having on learning.

The Hunger Games, a film set in a future where the government selects a boy and girl from each district to fight to the death on live television, has been the number one film in America for over a month.  The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG-13 “for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images—all involving teens.”    

Entertainment has come a long way over the past half-century.  In 1960, when Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psycho was released in theaters, America was a different place. One of the reasons Hitchcock decided to shoot Psycho in black-and-white was because he thought it would be too gory in color. Interestingly, the “goriest” part of the film was the famous shower scene, which involved no more than a man slashing through a shower curtain with a knife, a woman screaming and raising her hands to block the blows, and blood, which was actually Bosco’s chocolate syrup, gurgling down the drain. Nevertheless, the scene shocked and horrified millions of Americans, leaving some, such as my grandmother, outraged and speechless.

That was gore in 1960. Today gore is a bit different. Horror films in the 21st century are beyond graphic, prompting directors to employ special effects crews who can convincingly hack-off heads, explode torsos, drive power drills through chest cavities, and cut legs with chainsaws. In such cases, blood and guts are everywhere, orange-yellow leaking from oozing intestines and dark purple flowing from gushing arteries. If my grandmother were alive today, I wonder what she would think of all this? I wonder how she would react to seeing the movie Hostel, or any of the various Saw films?

Through television, film, Internet, video games, and music videos, students today have an ample opportunity to develop a high tolerance for violence, not just a tolerance for it, in fact, but a taste for it. It’s true. I hear my students talking about it all the time. Over the years, I’ve heard kids in my homeroom passionately discuss the scene in the film American History X where the skinhead makes the black guy bite down on the curb and then stomps on the back of his head, killing him (this, by the way, has become known in the urban lexicon as a curb stomp).

I’ve heard them brag about their prowess in the video game Grand Theft Auto, explaining how they pumped so many people full of holes with a semiautomatic weapon, leaving them to die in a puddle of blood. I’ve heard them proudly recite the lyrics to their favorite songs, either rap or metal or some hybrid of the two, songs with a message about shooting or killing someone or about back-slapping a bitch across the face because she didn’t act right. I’ve seen them huddle together in their desks and talk about the crazy Internet sites they visit, the ones that show actual footage of real war, real murder, real suicides.

In light of the violent culture of 21st-century America and young people’s fascination with it, how should educators proceed with education? How do teachers and schools compete with the adrenaline rush of blood and guts and death when it comes to classroom instruction? With so much distraction and desensitization, how do teachers get on a student’s radar?

Reading teachers have been fighting this battle for years. The further society pushes the envelope when it comes to violence, the more desensitized youth become. Lessons that were once spicy and provocative slowly become tame and fail to stimulate. Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film Romeo + Juliet is a perfect example. Ten years ago, my students sat captivated by the opening scene, which depicted a full-scale gun battle at a gas station between the Motagues and the Capulets. Today, when the film is shown to freshmen, too often they are less than enthused.

This lack of enthusiasm carries over to the literature in many public school textbooks. There’s only so much a teacher can do to make Henry David Thoreau’s 1848 essay “Civil Disobedience,” which is part of the Philadelphia School District’s 11th-grade curriculum, fun and interesting. There’s only so much a teacher can do to spice-up Ralph Waldo Emerson’s tedious 1841 essay “Self-Reliance.” There’s only so much a teacher can do to get 16–year-old inner-city teenagers excited about The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, even when they focus on the bloody fist fight between Douglas and Mr. Covey, the slave master. Teachers might spice up the reading by facilitating discussions about racism, dignity, and self-respect, but ultimately, because teachers need to give their lessons rigor and work on language and critical-thinking skills, students must read the story and analyze it through real, structured writing. And this is where many kids begin to tune out.

Group work may help and so might a more hands-on, project-based lesson. These instructional strategies can only get a teacher so far when it comes to literacy, however. Young people must be taught to come out of their comfort zones and accept the fact that academics isn’t going to pack the same adrenaline rush as the film The Hunger Games; to combat this problem, many schools across the area are making the young adult novel The Hunger Games part of the curriculum.

Teachers are there to inform, not necessarily to entertain. While teachers should work to make lessons interesting, schools must hold fast to academic rigor and fight to undo the negative effects violence is having on learning.

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Game Maker Should Pull the Plug on ‘School Shooter’ Video Game

by Christopher Paslay

Disgruntled teenagers who fantasize about shooting their classmates need not worry about increased security in America’s public schools.  A new video game, “School Shooter: North American Tour 2012,” provides adolescents with all the opportunity to gun down teachers and students in the comfort of their own homes.

The video game, developed by Checkerboarded Studios, allows players to arm themselves with the same weapons used by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the teen duo who killed 13 people at Columbine High School in 1999, and Seung-Hui Cho, the college undergraduate who murdered 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007. 

Checkerboarded.com, the website for Checkerboarded Studios, explains that “you play as a disgruntled student fed up with something or other (We’re not exactly sure), who after researching multiple school shooting martyrs, decides to become the best school shooter ever.”

Players of “School Shooter” not only score points by blasting teachers and classmates full of holes in simulated school settings, but are given the option of committing suicide at the end of each level.

The video game is not without its critics.  Pennsylvania state Rep. Lawrence Curry has objected to the video game’s content, as has Cornwall-Lebanon School District Superintendent Joe Kristobak.   

As a high school teacher, I too am taken aback by the game’s concept.  Although supporters of such games insist they are protected by the First Amendment, this does not stop them from having a negative impact on education.  Research continues to show that violent video games not only contribute to an increase in violent behavior, but also shorten attentions spans.        

Worse still, they desensitize children to murder and death, and even help them cultivate a healthy taste for it.  My students’ fascination with blood and guts at times can be quite troubling.  This fascination is not limited to video games, of course.  It stretches into the realm of music, film, television, and the internet.           

Over the years, I’ve heard kids in my homeroom passionately discuss the scene in the film American History X where the skinhead makes the black guy bite down on the curb and then stomps on the back of his head, killing him (this, by the way, has become known in the urban lexicon as a curb stomp). 

I’ve heard them proudly recite the lyrics to their favorite songs that talk about killing someone or smashing-in their face with the butt of a pistol because they didn’t act right.  I’ve seen them huddle together in their desks and talk about the crazy internet sites they visit, the ones that show actual footage of real war, real murder, real suicides.

In light of the fascination young people have with violence in the 21st century, how should schools proceed with education?  How do teachers compete with the adrenaline rush of blood and guts and death when it comes to classroom instruction?  How do they continue to get on a student’s radar?

This is a dilemma I’ve recently faced.  Over the years, lessons of mine that were once spicy and provocative have slowly become mundane. 

Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film Romeo + Juliet is a perfect example.  Ten years ago, my students sat captivated by the opening scene, which depicted a full scale gun battle at a gas station between the Motagues and the Capulets.  Today when I show the film to my freshmen, too often they are less than enthused.

This lack of enthusiasm carries over to the literature in our textbooks.  There’s only so much I can do to make Henry David Thoreau’s 1849 essay “Civil Disobedience,” which is part of the Philadelphia School District’s 2010-11 eleventh grade curriculum, fun and interesting.  There’s only so much I can do to get 16 year old inner-city teenagers excited about The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, even when I focus on the bloody fist fight between Douglas and Mr. Covey, the slave master.

And video games like “School Shooter” are not helping matters.  Checkerboarded Studios should consider pulling the plug on the project, if not out of respect for the victims of the Columbine and Virginia Tech massacres, than out of respect for public education.

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