Neil’s been at odds with his PE teacher all year, which hasn’t been a major concern for me. But every so often, he comes back with stories or assignments that strike me as really off the mark. For instance, last year, one of the children in the class injured himself during PE. The PE teacher required all the students to write up “the rules of PE” without telling them what her rules actually were. More recently, she’s announced all the children will have to sign a contract with her, which gives me the heebie-jeebies because Neil’s a minor and children really oughtn’t be put in the position of making agreements with authority figures without a parent.
But I finally dropped my feigned indifference when Neil told me yesterday that the PE teacher seated the class in front of a TV and made to watch the movie Super Size Me, complete with the requirement of taking notes and the threat of a quiz on it later.
Now just as background (particularly if you don’t know this movie), I saw Super Size Me in the movie theatres when it came out, and I enjoyed it. In short, the film maker Morgan Spurlock documents himself eating exclusively at McDonald’s restaurants, and avoiding physical exercise for a month, deliberately making choices that cause him to gain a massive amount of weight and develop health problems. He intersperses his documentary with asides about school lunches, sugar consumption, the obesity rate in Houston, and the effectiveness of McDonald’s advertising. Spurlock is effective with his “plain folks” approach, and the movie has a delightful humorous undercurrent.
But like most modern documentaries, it’s more of an opinion piece, some might even say propaganda, than a straightforward text. For instance, Spurlock is really pigging out at McDonald’s: if you choose to stuff your face with milkshakes and triple-burgers every day, is it really fair to single out the restaurant you bought the food from for the consequences of your gluttony? In response to the movie, some individuals tested the assertion that eating exclusively at McDonald’s will make you fat and sick, and came up with opposing results. It’s also telling that Spurlock’s girlfriend is a gourmet vegan chef. In my personal experience, vegans are obnoxiously uptight and judgmental about food. Since Spurlock happily puts up with living with her, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find a food Nazi under his “aw, shucks” demeanor.
None of this matters if you have the skills to watch, and then to think and discuss the movie. But it’s not good to foist the movie as gospel upon a group of 10-year-olds. What ideas can such young minds possibly come away with after watching Super Size Me, other than McDonalds is evil and anyone who likes fast food is fat, lazy, and stupid? I object to the showing of documentaries as a replacement for teaching in the first place, particularly when there’s no counterpoints or analysis following. But I really thought I wouldn’t encounter the issue until high school. Generally, elementary school educational movies are short clips about “how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly” and Schoolhouse Rock.
So I dropped a line to the PE teacher expressing my disappointment. Peter joked I was going back to being “psycho parent” again (i.e. someone who dares express concerns about the subjects being taught), but that’s fine. Maybe we’ll be launching back into homeschooling earlier than expected.