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Documentaries and bias ... suggestions for use in the classroom?

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Documentaries and bias ... suggestions for use in the classroom?

Old 10-29-22, 10:27 PM
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Documentaries and bias ... suggestions for use in the classroom?

As some of you know, this is my first year teaching English classes. I have freshman and sophomores at an inner-city high school with a very diverse mix of population demographics. The "level" of my students is definitely on the lower end.

We are starting a new unit where our "essential question" is "How is our decision making influenced?" For this new unit, we are using documentaries for our primary source. We will NOT be watching more than clips in class (no full movies). Podcasts could even work! Stuff on Youtube would be helpful.

I'm looking for creative suggestions on activities we could do as well as suggestions for documentaries to use. Ideally, I'd like to find two documentaries that present opposite views of the same event or person. I'd also like to hear any suggestions you have about documentaries that provide very biased or unbiased views.

Right now, the first few days are going to be students self-reflecting or examining what influences their decision making process, including a few magic tricks that present the illusion of choice. Then we will move into a few days on the history of documentaries and how they differ from "regular" movies (found this sight which I'm finding very interesting: https://www.docsonline.tv/history-of-documentary-film/ ).
Old 10-29-22, 10:53 PM
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Re: Documentaries and bias ... suggestions for use in the classroom?

The Jubilee YouTube channel does good debate videos on two opposing viewpoints.

examples:

“Conservative Teens vs Liberal Parents”

“Police vs Protestors”

“Pro College vs Anti College”

“Pro vs Anti Arranged Marriage”

“Birth Parents vs Adoptees”

“Free Range vs Strict Parents”


They also have Spectrum videos where it’s a singular topic and people give opinions on an Agree / Disagree scale.

Last edited by MLBFan24; 10-29-22 at 11:09 PM.
Old 10-29-22, 11:43 PM
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Re: Documentaries and bias ... suggestions for use in the classroom?

That last part might be better ... I am not looking for debate topics, but two presented views on the same thing. May be that line is a bit gray.

For example, I thought the HBO documentary on Adnan Syed was presented with the view he was guilty (it was not -- I had not watched it) while the podcast Serial was very much in the "he is innocent" camp. Since I was wrong, that won't work.

Old 10-30-22, 08:08 PM
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Re: Documentaries and bias ... suggestions for use in the classroom?

To me, I think one of the best examples of bias is in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. He shows George Bush hearing that the the US was under attack, and he kept reading the childrens' book. I think that by itself is damning enough. But Moore does an "inner monologue" of Bush, pretending to know what he was thinking, and tying in the news he'd just received with how he'd go about invading Iraq more than a year later.

It might be good to find a news clip or something of Bush at the school event, then compare it to Moore's overly assuming version in his documentary film.
Old 10-31-22, 02:53 PM
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Re: Documentaries and bias ... suggestions for use in the classroom?

Originally Posted by Paff View Post
To me, I think one of the best examples of bias is in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.
Or, hell, any Michael Moore documentary. That being said, Fahrenheit 9/11 is probably the best one to choose from since the vastly superior and much more even-handed Control Room came out the same year and covered some of the same events.
Old 10-31-22, 07:54 PM
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Re: Documentaries and bias ... suggestions for use in the classroom?

Late last night I had a brilliant idea strike me …

Looking at how War of the Worlds influenced people! Found a short clip from a PBS show (American Experience) that I had planned on using today (timely!). We talked about it, but we didn’t get to the clip (will play it tomorrow). The kids thought it was pretty funny that a radio program could create a national panic and convince the world we were being invaded by aliens.
Old 11-10-22, 01:23 AM
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Re: Documentaries and bias ... suggestions for use in the classroom?

Not what you're looking for but if teaching about documentaries you could go in to how documentaries themselves might impact the subject matter. Especially with nature documentaries. Could bring up an infamous example of how Disney nature documentarians intentionally threw lemmings off of a cliff for the documentary because they couldn't get footage of this event naturally (because they don't do this).
Old 11-12-22, 04:42 PM
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Re: Documentaries and bias ... suggestions for use in the classroom?

I had never heard about that! We spent a day discussing the difference between movies and documentaries ... that would have been an interesting example!

When I originally posted the thread, I used the word "bias" and I should have said "influence." Where we are moving more into is looking at how documentaries can be used to influence us. We've been looking at "the three tracks" (what we see, what we hear, what we read) and identifying why filmmakers make the choices they make.

For example, we watched a short on Vimeo called "In Decision" and spent quite a bit of time discussing why the filmmaker chose to use black and white imagery and some of the "b-roll" images used.

This week they will start on making their own "documentaries" using Google Slides with added audio and text tracks.
Old 11-12-22, 06:12 PM
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Re: Documentaries and bias ... suggestions for use in the classroom?

Maybe if you do a lesson on some authors who had mental illness, show them the Selena Gomez docu on Apple TV+. Mind and Me or something. Absolutely stirring, heart wrenching and true depiction of mental illness. I had no idea just how much she’s been through. Just goes to show no matter who we are and what are economic status, anyone can have serious mental illness. Bipolar disorder I would imagine is no joke.
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