Movies are a popular form of entertainment, but “cineliteracy” is often neglected in education. A film course is an ideal homeschool elective! Teaching about classic movies is a great way to introduce moral themes, such as liberty and justice, to students.
From the 1930s to the 1960s, Hollywood honored the Motion Picture Production Code. This code oversaw the moral conduct in movies after complaints were made about movies in the 1920s! Influenced by the Catholic Church, the code was created by Will Hays, head of the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA).
The Hays Code states, “If motion pictures present stories that will affect lives for the better, they can become the most powerful force for the improvement of mankind.” Notably, the Motion Picture Production Code was in effect during the Golden Age of cinema. Unfortunately, many modern films leave a lot to be desired when it comes to morality. So, how can movies be used to teach students moral themes?
An episode of the Dr. J Show features Dr. Onalee McGraw, Director of the Educational Guidance Institute (EGI). She says that classic films can be used to present universal truths about Character, Virtue, Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. “There’s always a serious moral choice that’s being made. This is especially great for our young people today.”
McGraw says that movies should spotlight virtues needed for young people to emulate, such as chastity. Movies from Hollywood’s Golden Age typically show a man and a woman loving each other deeply, and handling temptations. “It’s a beautiful way that young people today can take in truths about God’s plan for human sexuality.”
Classic Movie Study Guides
The Educational Guidance Institute (EGI) developed a series of “Classic Movies for the Classroom” study guides for high school, college students, and young adults. These study guides, written by Dr. McGraw, include unique learning tools that build critical thinking, vocabulary, and essay writing skills. There are two types of study guides.
The Spotlight Series focuses on one individual film at a time. These study guides provide all the educational tools needed to study a film in depth including vocabulary, discussion questions, film facts, and essay topics. Spotlight Series films include:
- It’s a Wonderful Life: “Live is Worth Living”
- A Raisin in the Sun: “Love and Freedom in the Life of a Family”
- Key Largo: “Moral Courage in the Face of Evil”
- On the Waterfront: “The Awakening of Conscience”
- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: “Defending Justice and Truth in the Public Square”
- Johnny Belinda: “Love Transforms Us”
- The Snake Pit: “Portrait of the Struggle for Wholeness”
- Roman Holiday: “Love and Responsibility”
- No Way Out: “Overcoming Conflict with Justice and Mercy”
The Theme Based Series includes between seven and twelve different films for study that fit with the overall theme of the study guide. Titles include:
- The Business of Life featuring 1940’s classics such as Shadow of a Doubt, Gaslight, It’s a Wonderful Life, Key Largo, etc.
- Liberty and Justice for All which includes 12 Angry Men, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Bad Day at Black Rock, etc.
- Men of the West featuring Western Classics such as Shane, The Magnificent Seven, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, High Noon, etc.
- The Feminine Soul featuring films that portray women with strong personal identity and deep integrity, from Kitty Foyle to The Country Girl and Young at Heart, etc.
- Men and Women in Love which includes Only Angels Have Wings, Roman Holiday, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Shop Around the Corner, etc.
- Radical Choices in the Crossroads of Life with films like Casablanca, Double Indemnity, High Noon, All About Eve, A Raisin in the Sun, etc.
- The Films of Jimmy Stewart featuring It’s a Wonderful Life, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Winchester 73, The Shop Around the Corner, etc.
- Shining Light on Our Common Humanity featuring ten great classic films, from A Tale of Two Cities to Remember the Titans.
All of the study guides work well in multiple learning situations including public and private school classrooms (middle and high school,) homeschool settings, informal social youth gatherings, and even as supplements to college courses. EGI has been offering the Classic Movie study guides on Amazon since 2016.
Classic Film Documentary
This 25-min documentary provides viewers insight into why great films from Hollywood’s Golden Age have such enduring appeal across the generations. Onalee McGraw and John Clark unfold some examples of how classics like It’s a Wonderful Life and A Raisin in the Sun bridge the polarizing divides we are experiencing in today’s culture.
Download a free handout: Building Social Capital With Classic Movies
Purchase the Classic Movie study guides on Amazon