Here is a dilemma–not mine, thank goodness, though it easily could be. This came from friends in Wisconsin. Their 16-year-old child’s Spanish teacher sent home a permission slip that said, “We are going to watch several R-rated movies in class this year. The first one is Frida with Selma Hayek.”
“What would you do?” my friends asked.
My first thought was: How are they allowed to show R-rated movies in school? My second thought was, okay, maybe it’s not so bad. After all, The King’s Speech was rated R, but when I researched why, it was only for the non-gratuitous use of the F-word, said several times during the course of the main character’s speech therapy. Legitimate use, in my opinion. So, I made the decision to let my then 14-year-old see the movie. Maybe Frida was the same?
Uh, no. I went to kids-in-mind.com to check it out. This has been my go-to website to check out movies before I let my kids see them, though I’ve gone there less often as my kids have gotten older. The site scores movies based on the amount of sex/nudity, violence/gore, and profanity they contain. The scores are out of 10. Frida scores 7/7/6. The movie focuses on the artist’s “rocky and often abusive relationship with her husband and fellow artist Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina), her bisexuality, medical problems and the drug and alcohol abuse that killed her at age 47.”
Hmm. Next, I would watch the movie myself. My friends did. The movie apparently earns its R rating immediately–the first several minutes are a graphic sex scene. Right there I’m thinking how is this appropriate for school? Okay, she’s a famous Mexican artist. Okay, the movie is the Spanish language version and it is a Spanish class. But, how is it okay to show this in school?
You could argue that kids these days have seen everything, but is that really true? I know my husband and I were pretty adamant about not letting our kids see PG-13 movies until they were at least 13. We used the ratings as a guide, and I would like to think we were not the only parents monitoring what our children watched. We made exceptions, of course, as with The King’s Speech. When Lord of the Rings came out, my older son was 11. He so wanted to see that movie. My husband and I checked it out and decided that he could see the movie, with us, only after he read the book. The same held true for The Two Towers, which was much more violent, even though he was over 13 by then.
My thinking is that once you see something, you can’t un-see it. It’s there, in your brain, forever. At what age, then, do you want your children to see drug addicts shooting up, men and women having sex, a husband beating up his wife, parents beating up their children, one human murdering another, etc.? “Values” is such a charged word these days, but truly, this comes down to the values of parents. I don’t want to condemn anyone’s values. Each child’s parents get to decide what their child sees, and that’s just fine–each family is different. But what about when you have children all from different families in one place, like a classroom?
Well, that’s what the permission slip is for, right? But what happens to the child whose parents decide that the movie is not something they are comfortable with their child seeing? The child is singled out, dismissed to the library. Does the child get teased, stigmatized, ostracized? Kids being kids, likely so, to some degree. And what additional grief is there for the child who already has a hard time fitting in, who already faces tormentors every day?
My next step would be to speak to the teacher and/or the principal. A hard choice for my friends, I think, because they live in a very small community, and word gets around.
What a horrible position for a school to put parents in. What do you do? Be true to your values and risk your child’s emotional well-being and sense of belonging? Or compromise your values, knowing that your child will be seeing something on the screen that he or she can never un-see, that some little bit of innocence will have been torn away by the time the school day ends? Not to mention the fact that your son or daughter will be well aware that you compromised your values. What message does that send?
For me, what it really comes down to is this: Permission slip or not, is it appropriate to show R-rated movies in the classroom? In my opinion, no. I am a liberal, but speaking as a parent, no politics involved, R-rated movies have no place in a classroom. It shouldn’t even be an option with a permission slip.
But, that’s my opinion, and I’m open to the idea that there could be exceptions. What’s your opinion? And what would you do if this was your child’s high school Spanish class? And, something else to consider–does it make a difference if your child is a boy or a girl? Is there an R-rated movie out there that you think would be okay to show in class?