Guest Post by Roberta Seret
[Even in today’s world, Sunday night’s Oscar telecast may have been the only time this year, sadly, that many Americans thought about exemplary foreign language films. Yet if we replicate that oversight in schools, we’re losing out on a host of important teaching opportunities, a point that Dr. Seret’s World Affairs in Foreign Films makes abundantly clear. Full of close, thoughtful readings of outstanding films such as Persepolis, it’s a book that deserves to be recognized as a definitive resource on its topic by media specialists and teaching librarians. That’s why I’m so grateful that its author could take some time to discuss one of the keynotes of this blog… -Peter]
The screening of foreign films to students is an excellent vehicle to encourage critical thinking.
If we, as teachers, are interested in what adolescents do with their life after their school years, it is our responsibility to give them the needed skills. We all share the goal that students will develop into productive individuals and that they “enjoy” their life. Why not teach them as adolescents how to “enjoy” the act of learning?
For the past 10 years, I have implemented a “Global Classroom” in the United Nations and have taken it directly into high school classrooms. The concept is to teach adolescents about an academic subject in an innovative way. I chose the topic world affairs. But students also learn about global history, geography, government, different cultures, and human rights. Above all, they learn how to think critically. The vehicle for such teaching is foreign film.
Teenagers are visual learners. They feel comfortable in front of a screen, be it their computer, cell phone, or camera. When they watch a foreign film, and for many it is the first time, they struggle with the sub-titles. They feel uncomfortable with the foreign setting, the emphasis on character and plot development. Yet, as students become engrossed in the story, they surrender to the “foreignness,” even become curious about the new experience. They allow themselves to be opened-up for they are emotionally taken in. They are traveling somewhere they never knew before.
Discussions, questions, debates, follow. Nothing is black and white, especially history or world affairs. Our students learn that there are multiple sides to any problem. The film and its story serve as catalysts to teach students how to probe, to analyze, to synthesize, and to understand. This is preparation for survival skills and real-life experiences.
Above all, students are learning the process of problem-solving through critical thinking.
Foreign films offer a wonderful vehicle for this process for their subject matter reflects reality. The narrative has its basis on something that has happened. Seeing on the screen the unfolding of a situation, stimulates students to ask questions. This is the beginning of critical thinking.
What are some films that can be viewed with the goal of encouraging critical thinking? And what “questions” can be used to catapult this thought process?
- Beijing Bicycle (China) What human characteristics and values help determine success?
- Hotel Rwanda (Rwanda) What is responsibility? Individual responsibility? Group responsibility?
- March of the Penguins (Antarctica) Does the individual have any control over climate change?
- Tsotsi (South Africa) How would you improve prison rehabilitation for juvenile delinquents and juvenile criminals?
- Osama (Afghanistan) Should a mother allow her young daughter to dress as a boy in order to work?
- The Lives of Others (Germany) Can an individual change? Can an individual change his/her personality? Character? Morals? Values?
- The Lady (Myanmar/ Burma) What are Human Rights? What are children’s rights? Women’s rights?
Foreign films like these are structured on character and plot development. By watching these films and asking questions, students can be guided to explore new aspects of issues. In this way, critical thinking skills can be developed. Students are exposed to targeted questions and are encouraged to analyze through discussion, debate and further questioning. They are learning to think critically.
Roberta Seret, Ph.D., President and Founder, International Cinema Education, NGO/ United Nations/ D.P.I.
Author: World Affairs in Foreign Films: Getting the Global Picture (McFarland Publishers, 2011)
Contact information: firstname.lastname@example.org, 212-734-9210.