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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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These are the top 20 movies every educator should watch. While every movie is not specifically about educators, there is definitely something to take away from each. These movies are not listed in order of importance, just the order they came to me. Each title is linked to their IMDB page.

Summer School
Mark Harmon tries to be the teacher he is not and only succeeds in reaching his students when he is the teacher they need him to be. Be true to yourself and the students will listen.

Lean on Me
Morgan Freeman plays Joe Clark, the principal who is willing to do anything it takes to help make his school safe and create an environment for all students to learn. Sometimes doing what's tough is what's best for kids.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off
As a teacher, this movie is a bit funnier when you think about the things Ferris is able to pull off and the craziness Edward Rooney, the principal, must have had to deal with to push him over the edge.

Dead Poets Society
One of the main reasons I wanted to be an English Teacher my captain, my captain.

Stand and Deliver
This is a great movie about reaching students who feel like they have no hope of success in their life. Looking at it now, it also has something to say about standardized testing.

Searching for Bobby Fischer
A young chess prodigy is pushed by his father and chess teacher to be the best, when he just wants to play. Thought provoking story about how we treat gifted children. Do we really know what is best for them?

The Karate Kid
A wimpy kid is trained to defend himself by a old Japanese man. What I always take away from this movie is the unconventional ways that Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel. Sometimes the unconventional is the way to go.

Max Fischer, played by Jason Schwartzman, is the student that seems to be involved in everything, but can't seem to get his studies done. Bill Murray should have won an Oscar for his performance. I think every school has a Max, but how do we reach them?

Besides being the right thing to do, Carrie showcases a great reason on why kids should never bully other students. You never who has telekinetic powers, so be nice to everyone.

Mean Girls
Tina Fey does a great job with this script showing how high school gossip and overall cattiness plays out. It is a funny take on a serious issue in some high schools.

Reese Witherspoon and Mathew Broderick (now playing a teacher) are amazing in this film showing the dark underbelly of student government. It is a funny movie that, as a teacher, makes you wonder what student leadership is all about.

It might seem like a bit dated for today's schools, but Heather's commentary on cliques is still relevant. Heathers is an excellent movie that still packs a punch today.

Dazed and Confused
Forget about the herbal parts of the movie and focus on Jeremy London's character. He is supposed to be "the jock" and commit to being a certain person. He fights to be himself and that is something to be admired.

The Breakfast Club
A movie that is a must-see for everyone. When I watch the movie now, it reminds me that no matter how I might perceive a student to be, there is a good chance they have some darker parts they are just waiting to share. Sometimes they just need someone to ask.

Finding Forrester
One of Sean Connery's last movies before he retired and he is magnificent. A young man gets into a fancy prep school on a basketball scholarship, but it turns out he is a great writer who butts heads with his tyrannical English teacher. Connery is reclusive writer who helps the student find his voice. There is more to students than we realize at times.

The Mighty
This is a story about two unlikely friends that have much to learn from one another. I stumbled upon this movie a few years ago and loved it. I will always stop and watch it.

Real Genius
Val Kilmer is very funny in this movie. He mentors a young kid who skips ahead to college. It's interesting to see what the pressure of being a "genius" can sometimes do to a person.

School Ties
This has an all-star cast dealing with bigotry during the 1950's. Even though it deals with anti-Semitism, the story truly applies to all types of discrimination students might face in schools.

Super 8
The reason this movie is on the list is because I feel it nailed the type of relationship young boys have at a particular age. JJ Abrams did an amazing job of writing exactly how young boys act when they are goofing around or when there is a girl in their midst. When dealing with boys in the classroom, this movie might help you make sense of their actions.

Stand by Me
This is another example of boys being boys, but also young kids being forced to deal with unfair expectations or labels based on their families. Whether it's not living up to your all-star brother or trying to escape the reputation of a criminal brother, fighting to be yourself is never easy.

What other movies would you add to this list? Please add to the comments section below.

Do you have an education-related list of 20 you'd like to submit? Please send to community AT edutopia. Be sure you have a profile on Edutopia.org with a photo and bio included.

Comments (139)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Linda Tillinghast's picture
Linda Tillinghast
CSE Chairperson, Mattituck, NY

On Aug 29, 2011, at 2:18 PM, Linda Tillinghast wrote:

I don't think I have twenty movies, but I would like to add a few more to the list if I may.

The first is:

1. Remember the Titans - this movie starring Denzel Washington is based on the true story of integration of a Virginia High School and its football team in a previously all white community and football league. The lessons learned are invaluable.

2. Apollo 13 - this movie starring Tom Hanks based upon the true story of the failed moon landing and almost fatal loss of crew speaks to the incredible things that happen when we display the determination, perseverance, and teamwork we are capable of.

3. The Shawshank Redemption - this movie while a bit graphic and of course meant for high school students is provocative for its depiction of corruption within so-called institutions, injustices where there should be justice, and taking justice into one's own hands. But the underlying and enduring theme of friendship is what propels this movie and will undoubtedly propel classroom discussion.

Linda Tillinghast

Elena Knepprath's picture
Elena Knepprath
Community School Advocate

I was surprised October Sky wasn't on the list - movie about a coal miner's son who dreams beyond his smalltown and pursues his passion for science, even when others say its not possible. I love that it is a story of redemption for a student that doesn't revolve around sports being the only ticket out.

Also a couple of my Bollywood favorites that are applicable even in the US (especially as we have increasing number of immigrant students in our classrooms):

3 Idiots - the story of a few guys in Engineering school, each with their own passions. Raises good questions about parental and societal pressures to perform, purpose of education, and the value of friendship.

Like Stars on Earth - wonderful story of one boy's struggle with dyslexia and a teacher who makes a huge difference. I found this especially valuable to share with parents with children struggling in school because of dyslexia or other reasons - great way to bring up special education with parents not familiar with the concept due to cultural reasons.

Joe Beckmann's picture
Joe Beckmann
Retired teacher educator - UMass, EDC, various school systems

One of the best movies I use in the beginning of every semester is Andalusian Dog by Bunuel and Dali. Beginning with the guy slicing his girlfriend's eyeball, each kid is riveted to the screen which, when the film ends, I ask "who's eye did the guy slice, hers or yours!" We then talk about films as documents, and the dialog between the director and the audience. Thereafter every movie is a statement, worth at least as much attention as a novel or nonfiction or textbook. And THAT movie was made in 1929!

For some obvious elisions on this list, we forget that Gone With the Wind was made 75 years ago, ABOUT A WAR 75 YEARS BEFORE THE MOVIE ITSELF! A short set of clips says as much about 1939 as the movie itself says about 1862!

And then there are the obvious ones, like Rasputin & the Empress, with the Barrymores playing the end of the Russian Empire, and, as their maid, Barbara Barondess who fled the Russian Revolution with her family back to Brooklyn where she was born to a Jewish family fearing a Russian (and later German) pogrom! Ah, that is the way to see the 20th century!

And there is always Goodbye Mr. Chips, for a much more quaint, but poignant, view of teaching; or, for a high school kid aspiring to be a shrink, Snake Pit to show what the world was like 60 years ago for the crazy; or, Battle of Algiers to show what Europeans thought of America in Vietnam or what we might think today of any other guerrilla war!

Movies are pretty hot with a smartboard in a classroom, incidentally, since you can start, stop, speed, and highlight. That also is an invitation for them to bring in their own favs, often from YouTube, and then get some REAL controversy!

RoxiW's picture
Kindergarten Teacher from SD

I'd add "Radio" to the list. High School football coach Jones protects a handicapped man from the abuse and bullying of some of his players, in the end teaching a whole community about compassion.

Carol Parker's picture
Carol Parker
7/8 Drama, Film, Honors & Regular Language Arts

Visual Arts, MY PASSION!

CHARLIE CHAPLIN: The Tramp,The Kid, Modern Times, all of his classics, children LOVE HIM,Buster Keaton's The General, Duck Soup and &A Night at the Opera My Little Chickadee (WCFields & Mae West),It Happened One Night Philadelphia(Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant), Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Yankee Doodle Dandy,Footlight Parade, 42nd Street, Gone With The Wind,Shane, High Noon,Some Like It Hot, Breakfast at Tiffany's, ET, Back to the Future,Tootsie The Miracle Worker, Bonnie and Clyde, Deliverance, all the 60's MGM MUSICALS.
Westerns, Spaghetti Westerns,

Civil Rights Films:
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, The Last of the Mohicans,Dances with Wolves, Gentleman's Agreement, Mississippi Burning, The Shadow of Hate,Silkwood,Glory,The Color Purple, Schindler's List, The Great Debaters,

I Am Sam, Simon Birch, Rainman,
All Coen Brothers.....
All Woody Allen....

Foreign Films:off the top of my head...
Felini La Strada, 8 1/2, Americord, Cinema Paradiso
French: All Trauffaut,especially: The Wild Child,Au Revoir les Enfants,Martin Gruerre
Bergman Wild Strawberry's, Fanny and Alexander,
British:Ivory Merchant (brilliant films),The Queen, The King's Speech everything else the British produce, Monty Python, Benny Hill, etc...
The Boy in Stripped Pajamas
Irish films: My Left Foot,Cal,The Crying Game, Waking Ned Devine,
Mexican: Like Water for Chocolate, Pan's Labrynith,
Spain:Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,,
Chinese: Raise the Red Lantern, The
Japanese: Kurosawa's Dreams and Roshomon
Germany" Sophie Schol,
Australia Muriel's Wedding

Nothing like the art of the film. We have so many
people to thank, especially GEORGE LUCAS!!

Let's keep the conversation going!!

Marcia Nunes's picture
Marcia Nunes
Teaching English as a Second Language

Great movies I've seen and even used in the classroom:
- The Freedom Writers
- Temple Grandin
- The Ultimate Gift

Claire's picture

Two classic British "teacher" movies are To Sir, With Love and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Great actors in both leading roles! To Sir, With Love is pretty dated in some ways but I think it's a great reminder that helping your students to be successful can sometimes mean more than just helping them academically. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is somewhere between inspirational and cautionary--bring your students the thrill of learning, but also think about what power you can have over them. Well...and so much more! Thought provoking movies.

Deb's picture
Middle Grades ELA in Minneapolis

The film, The Mighty, is an adaptation of the YA novel, Freak the Mighty. The novel is a perennial favorite of my sixth graders. Two very different boys form a unique friendship.

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