Blogs > Cliopatria > Anthony Dralle: Review of Celluloid Blackboard: Teaching History with Film, ed. Alan S. Marcus

Jun 26, 2007 9:42 pm


Anthony Dralle: Review of Celluloid Blackboard: Teaching History with Film, ed. Alan S. Marcus




Much has been made in recent years of many students’ lack of interest in social studies, and of their poor performance in various measures of U.S. history knowledge. Starting with the 1983 publication, A Nation at Risk, and continuing through various studies conducted by Diane Ravitch, Chester Finn, and their peers, advocates of fact-based history study have argued that American students do not know their history as well as they should.

During the same period of time, researchers including Sam Wineburg (2001), Keith Barton & Linda Levstik (2004) have urged a different approach to improving secondary history education in American public schools. These researchers have rejected a “back to basics” focus emphasizing U.S. history as a consistent story of progress, with information presented primarily by the teacher and the text. Instead, they have suggested that students study history more like historians do: by considering different perspectives and by building a sense of empathy with historical figures in order to avoid judging historical actions by present-day standards. This approach is evident throughout editor Marcus’s recently published Celluloid Blackboard, which features several authors’ discussions concerning teaching and learning history in secondary U.S. History courses using popular films. The authors of the ten-chapter work frequently cite, Barton, and Levstik in their studies, stating that students need the support in developing more critical views of films as well as other sources of historical information.

Celluloid Blackboard makes a compelling case for exploring the use of film in teaching history. Alan S. Marcus (with Thomas H. Levine) argues that “historical film literacy should be a vital aim of history teachers” (p. 3) and notes that in one recent study, 92.9% of teachers used film an average of at least one time per week in their teaching. Marcus reports that over half of all students indicated they had seen Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, Pearl Harbor, The Patriot, and Saving Private Ryan before taking U.S. History in high school. The editor notes that Hollywood has “bequeathed us with depictions of the past which are simultaneously moving, dramatic, and problematic.” As Stuart Poyntz states in Chapter 3, “The blockbuster film is not going away and it is these forms of representation that educators must learn to use productively if history education is to provide young people with the tools necessary to operate in a democratic society” (p. 91). While exemplary U.S. history instruction might not require watching films in class, most teachers do include films in teaching the subject, and most students’ background knowledge of events in U.S. history is at least partially shaped from Hollywood movies. Thus, Celluloid Blackboard’s content is relevant to teacher educators, as well as current and future social studies teachers....
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