The Monomyth, Puppets, and Obscenities in the Classroom

Sep 17, 2013 by

I must preface this post with a brief disclaimer. I do not swear on this blog, nor do I swear in my professional duties while working with students. I don’t advocate swearing in the classroom, but one of the most entertaining videos I’ve found that helps explain Joseph Campbell’s “Monomyth” uses the “S” word twice, although it is censored with “bleeps” in both occasions.

Mario and Fafa are puppets; highly entertaining puppets created by Damien Eckhardt-Jacobi and Vincent Bova. Mostly they star in comedic videos referencing pop culture, but every so often the furry groundhog and his red friend present us with a humorous attempt to educate their audience about important cultural touchstones. In doing so they create marvelous pieces of video that fit someplace between “The Muppet Show” and “PBS”. The only problem (for almost all K-12 schools) is the occasional use of off-color language. And while the two instances of the “S” word in this quick-witted explanation of the “Hero’s Journey” are both bleeped out, I still find myself hesitant to share what would otherwise be a rather engaging, and lighthearted, look at a topic that can typically be quiet dry in its introduction to students. Feel free to watch the video below and ask yourself what teenager wouldn’t get a kick out of two furry puppets explaining one of literature’s most infamous narrative patterns by referencing Star Wars, Adam Sandler, Indiana Jones, The Hobbit, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Harry Potter.

And thus I leave you with these questions. Is content this captivating worth the risk of introducing the censored language that it uses? What role, if any, would language like this have in any K-12 classroom? Certainly content like this would pass muster at the post-secondary level (although last year Arizona law-makers thought differently). Am I barking up the wrong tree, and trying to push material like this where it wouldn’t be appropriate? Or would some desperate language arts’ teachers out there share something like this outside of class time, or through social media channels, to avoid any direct accusations of encouraging indecent language? How are teachers handling an increasingly connected, and blended teaching environment in which media streams in from all corners of the internet? How should we “vet” content like this, and how do you make a call on what is “safe” or not for your classroom?

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6 Comments

  1. Renee

    I think the edits are fine for grades 7 and up. Consider what students that age are seeing and hearing now. They watched Miley Cyrus on the MTV Video Awards. Even movies that have great educational connections have language, and it’s often NOT censored! Our junior high science teachers show October Sky and Apollo 13, and there are plenty of instances of off-color language in those great films. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water; if it has potential to be engaging, use it. If the language is a real concern, send a note home and allow parents to have their kids opt-out of that video.

    • Thanks for the reply, Renee. I spent 7 years teaching in an elementary setting, so I don’t have the best sense of what might be appropriate in many classrooms. To me, this would have been a clear “no go” video for my classrooms and school buildings. I wonder what parents would think about a blanket release at the start of the year that covers frequent short videos of this nature. I do recall having my parents sign something when I saw films in high school that were related to content, but contained adult language or situations, so perhaps an updated form to cover Youtube videos as well?

      • First Ben, let me say this blog is an awesome resource for educators.

        This is such a tough question…the video is full of lots of good info, and it is so entertaining and it is soooo tempting to want to use it, but I have to say that as a middle school parent, I would not appreciate a teacher showing this to my kid. The reason is that we parents are already fighting an uphill battle with the forces that be in Hollywood on decency, and this video just oozes immorality in a subtle way that is more insidious than even swear words. I think we have to consider the “hidden” curriculum that students will pick up on very easily in this video, so my vote is to skip it.

        I often face this dilemma, too, and wish that there was more great content out there. What we can do is keep on sharing engaging, healthy content that with each other, which is exactly what you do a great job on promoting in your blog and webpages. Keep up the great discussions!

  2. @Anna

    I appreciate the kinds words! I’ve been writing and sharing for almost a decade now, and at times I have to stop and wonder if what I’m putting out there is little more than just naive ramblings of an average educator from middle America. Granted, I know a lot of it is, but when I want to dig into a topic like this, I feel like I’m in over my head, so it feels good to know that someone thinks otherwise 🙂

    As for the profanities, as I said before, this would never work for me in an elementary or middle school classroom, I’d probably be too nervous about it. I can’t say how I might feel about a high school class, as Renee makes a good point about the nature of what the kids are most likely clicking on next, or just finished watching someplace else. At the same time, I think it’s wise to always be mindful of the hidden agenda that we present our students with; the model we set without realizing it. I’m glad I’ve got colleagues like you that are thoughtful about such content and truths.

    • Ben, I think everyone would agree with me here that you are anything but average!

      Ditto on your thoughts on “mindfulness.”

      And my problem is not so much the expletives as the frequent references to the Happy Gilmore movie, rated PG-13, “parents strongly cautioned”. There (hopefully!) are some children in the class who haven’t seen it yet, and then the references won’t be that helpful to their understanding of the concept being taught. By showing it in a classroom, the teacher is legitimizing the idea that children should watch PG-13 films, thereby exerting social pressure to these few children that they not only are abnormal, but that they *should* watch it. After all, it is necessary to watch it in order to fully understand the educational video being shown by the teacher.

      As I said, as a teacher it would be a tough call whether or not to allow this video because as we all know, so many masses of children are already watching R-rated movies and playing violent video games with the permission of their parents, but at least I would know that I had not contributed to the moral downfall of the students in my class.

      Happy Gilmore is fine for adults and really funny but it, like most Hollywood films, was created for the purpose of making money, not to inform and educate.

      You asked how other teachers make decisions like this. I know you enjoy learning from other cultures of the world, so I’ll share with you that there is a very helpful guide to how to choose media to show to children already written up quite nicely from a former principal of a school in Tehran, Iran, Mr. Ali Furutan. Check out chapter 6 (Children and Freedom) of his book, “Mothers, Fathers and Children; Practical Advice to Parents”, published by George Ronald, c1980. It’s out of print but you can always find a used copy online somewhere.

      • You’re awesome, thanks Anna!

        I’m not a huge fan of Adam Sandler myself, and I agree with you that any popular movies that incorporate his type of humor would certainly have to be carefully weighed before anyone would use them, if at all. I also agree that ratings are put in place for a reason, and even with the PG-13 rating, I would strongly encourage teachers to inform parents of the type of media that they display throughout the year. Especially in this case, as the video is referencing one piece of popular culture and media in order to help viewers understand other concepts of media and storytelling, hence the reference would be lost to those not having seen the movie.

        Like many tools and digital artifacts we bring into the classroom, each has significant meaning based on the shared previous knowledge and experience of our learners. It might be fun to have #DS106 create their own versions of this “Hero’s Journey” video, referencing various other narratives, to see what we could come up with.

        Thanks for the book reference as well, I’m going to see if I can secure a copy through inter-library loan (the online cost on Amazon and eBay are close to $30).

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