Teaching History to the Disadvantaged College Student: A History Through Film Approach
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 4, Number 1, February 1974
- pp. 3-8
- View Citation
- Additional Information
who has been educated in this country or has lived here for an extensive time knows and identifies with these traditions. They are taught in our schools, they are used in everyday reference, they are spewed forth from the mass media. Besides this they are a sure-fire favorite with the old Hollywood moguls. The collapse ofthe Hollywood studio system and the subsequent reliance on pre-sold Broadway musicals has diluted the Yankee mythology, but it still stands out as the most significant factor in musicals, whether Hollywood or Broadway. Teaching History to the Disadvantaged College Student: A History Through Film Approach By Claire Hirshfield Claire Hirshfield teaches history at the Ogontz Campus ofPenn State University. This is her second contribution to Film & History. Four years ago the Pennsylvania State University inaugurated an "Educational Opportunity Program" designed for students who could not otherwise hope to attend college. None ofthose enrolled in the program met normal admission standards, yet there existed in each case some indication of latent ability and for that reason the individual had been recruited. Hopefully the potential that high school teachers and counselors had glimpsed might be developed in college, provided that personal counseling, guidance in course selection, remedial work and a whole range of services were available from the very outset. In each of the past four years the Educational Opportunity Program has brought thirty-five students to Ogontz - a freshman-sophomore branch campus ofthe University. Most of these students have been well-motivated and ambitious, but they have uniformly suffered from verbal and mathematical deficiencies. In the years since our first group of thirty-five entered, we have learned a great deal about the limitations and the possibilities ofan "open admissions" type program. Writing clinics and study skills seminars are vital. But just as important to ultimate success or failure is the question ofwise course selection, especially in the initial term. Last year after considerable debate and experimentation it was decided that the EOP students should be rostered en bloc for their first college term. The EOP students would be enrolled as a class on a compulsory basis in two courses, English Composition and a Social Studies offering. The third course on the roster would be chosen on an individual basis in keeping with the projected major field of study. An offering in Social Studies had been agreed upon as one component in the first term program. But the exact nature ofthe course was left undefined. It was up to the instructors in the History Department to decide upon a proper introductory course. The course that we eventually decided to offer was History 19 - The History ofEurope since 1815. This may appear a somewhat incongruous choice to incorporate into an introductory program designed specifically for disadvantaged students. For most ofthe 3 students modern European history was remote and exotic. None had any experience with it in high school, and even such names as Lenin, Churchill, and Hitler were unfamiliar to them. Hence the mastery ofso much new and difficult material might pose special problems during the first term when the need for even modest success was so crucial to the student's sense of selfworth. However, even before the advent ofthe EOP student, we had been engaged in an extensive revision of History 19. The vast amount of material encompassed in the course had been compressed into ten basic topics. According to plan, at the first session ofclass each week one ofthese themes would be presented and briefly explored with an emphasis on the broad picture rather than on detail. At the second session one or two pertinent documents which illuminated those points stressed by the instructor at the first weekly session would be analyzed and discussed. And lastly, at the third session ofclass each week (scheduled as a double period of 1 50 minutes duration) a relevant feature film or documentary would be shown to dramatize the theme under discussion during the preceding class meetings. I might add that funds had been made available for the rental of whichever films we wished to show. The films were clearly the most crucial element in the program and the reason why the course seemed suited to...