All too often, debate about the place, purpose, and usefulness of film as a means of instruction and communication is clouded by confusion, defensiveness, and ignorance (Note 1). Knowledge about how film works, how it affects people in or out of the classroom, how it should be described, and how it should be analyzed is extremely difficult to ascertain and is more or less primitive. Research in the uses of film in education has, in the opinion of one of the leading researchers in this area, remained almost at a standstill since 1950 (Hoban 1971).
Current writing and discussion about film in the classroom has assumed at times the aura of a Marx Brothers movie, in which many people are scurrying about, bumping into each other, muttering dark accusations at nonexistent opponents, and, as in Duck Soup, challenging visitors to a duel at the very moment that cooperation and friendship are offered.
This state of affairs is not unique for those who are interested in film. Jean Piaget, in his survey "Education and Teaching Since 1935," notes under the subheading "Ignorance of Results" that "the first observation--a surprising one--that comes to mind after the
passage of thirty years is the ignorance in which we still remain" (1970b:5). It seems to me that knowledge about the use of film in education cannot be developed in a vacuum, without reference to the sociocultural context in which research about film in education and film as communication takes place.
The situation that I outlined in my opening paragraph refers to the current social context in which film is taught and in which film and film research is thought about. Piaget suggests that the social context (in relation to education) is crucial to an understanding of the problems facing educational research. It seems just as reasonable to consider as part of the social context the body of ideas current among spokesmen for, and researchers into, the use of film in education.
The purpose of this paper will be an attempt, first, to clarify some of the causes of the current confusion, which is characterized by seemingly irreconcilable goals, theories, and statements of purpose as to what film is and what it should be in education; second, to present a description of film as a process of communication that can be used in subsequent discussion; third, to discuss how film is used in the classroom; fourth, to present some evidence supporting several new directions in the use of film as a means of instruction, related to the notion that film is a means of communication; and fifth, to suggest lines for future research in education relating to such uses of film.
Before one can assess the role that film can play in education, it is necessary to examine its uses in sociocultural, artistic, political, and scientific endeavors. For the views developed about the role of film in education are necessarily colored by the views taken of film as art, film as propaganda, film as communication, and the views upon the effects of film on society in general. It must be further recognized that the arguments and theories involving film in general are in large part based on notions, on the one hand, about "art" and "language," and, on the other, about "television," "mass media," "pictures," and vision itself.
Consider some of the general assumptions that are made about film. First, there are those who argue the primacy of film on social and psychological grounds. This argument is based somewhat loosely (but adhered to firmly) upon the notion of "visual thinking," and leads to the conclusion that film or television is psychologically superior to words. Another form of this argument is expressed in assertions that "film is a language," that it is the language of the "now"
generation, and that it is becoming primary, sociologically and culturally.
A second view asserts the universality and potentialities of film as a medium. This position is reflected in statements that film is the newest art form, with the unexplored potential to do what words have failed to do: film is multimodal, multisensual, sensual (in its allied sense), and universal. Everyone, it is said, of all ages and across all cultures, likes and understands film. Most of the current discussion and justification for the use of film and television in schools can be traced to the above assumptions: psychological primacy, sociocultural primacy, communicative primacy (particularly as compared to words), and sensual primacy.
Research in the uses of film within a wide range of educational contexts-schools, churches, labor unions, the armed forces-and in the mass media in general has been going on since 1918. For the most part, this body of research was not designed to determine the truth of the previously mentioned assumptions, not because of unawareness of the assumptions but because of a conviction that they were not central to understanding how film works in the classroom. These assumptions have seemed so powerful and so implicitly true as to require only their assertion.
It is not the purpose of this paper to review the extensive research on the use of film for instructional purposes, numerous reviews of which are readily available (Note 2). Instead, it is my purpose to examine a series of arguments, positions, and ideologies that are currently being widely diffused and accepted in the educational and film communities but with very little research evidence in their support.
In commenting upon an earlier draft of this paper, Charles Hoban, one of the leading researchers in the use of film in the classroom, questioned the need for such a detailed treatment of the current ideologies of psychological, sociocultural, communicative, and sensual primacy. He felt then (1971) that these arguments seemed to have little influence in actual educational practice. Since his return from a field investigation of schools, teachers, and media practices in education in the United States (September 1972), he has commented in a personal communication: "These ideologies you discuss in your paper have spread throughout the educational community like wildfire. Their assumptions have not been examined, and the time has come for accountability in the implementation of these film
ideologies." This paper is an attempt, then, to begin the process of examining these assumptions.
Three major perspectives are involved in the analysis of the nature and effects of film.
First, there is the psychological perspective that has evolved from the application of the psychology of mind, perception, and art to problems of film. Rudolf Arnheim could be considered the paradigmatic figure in the development of an orientation relating certain psychological theories of perception and art to theories of film. For a variety of sociological and academic reasons, Arnheim's orientation, and particularly his idea of visual primacy, has become the central tenet of what may be referred to as an ideology of film. While this act of adoption may have distorted Arnheim's ideas somewhat, the ideology itself is so important that it merits further examination.
The second perspective is that developed by the artist-critics-- most often practicing filmmakers or film ideologists who write theoretical and ideological statements about what film is, what place it has or should have in society, how films should be made, or what film's ultimate destiny might be. Theoretical work by filmmakers about film has a long and international tradition, beginning with the works of Eisenstein (1949) and Pudovkin (1949) in the Soviet Union in the late 1920s and currently continuing with Pasolini (1965) and Bettetini (1972) in Italy and Godard and Metz (1968, 1970) in France. America's filmmaker-theorist tradition, although very recent, may be presented through the work of Gene Youngblood, an American avant-garde film ideologue, whose book Expanded Cinema (1970) has taken the place of McLuhan in the minds and hearts of most young people interested in film. It is read by film students, recommended by film teachers, and treated with respect by most younger filmmakers in education. It is the most academic of the books by American avant-garde film theorists and bears the stamp of approval of Buckminster Fuller.
The third perspective has been developed by the film teachers, those who teach with film and from film, those who teach about film, and those who teach how to make film. Film has been used in grade schools since 1918 and taught in high schools and colleges in the United States since the 1930s, but its blossoming into a fullfledged subject, integrated into the curriculum, was not achieved until the 1960s. Most boards of education now have sections headed by media specialists who have supplanted in status the old audiovisual directors. Their job is to help teachers design, develop, teach, and use film in the classroom. These teachers come from almost every field of educational specialization, but most seem to come out of English or
language-study departments. Government agencies such as the American Film Institute support training conferences in film study for elementary and high school teachers; UNESCO and other international agencies publish training manuals in film education; and some churches and many universities have extensive teacher training programs in what has been called "training for film literacy." An example of this perspective is the latest book by a film teacher to cross my desk, Film in the Classroom: Why Use It, How to Use It (Amelio 1971), which reports on the author's work with film in his own classroom (Note 3).
Let us start with Arnheim, then. In the 1930s, he began to publish his first works on film (1957), describing it as an art form and arguing that it was art precisely because it did not reproduce reality exactly. It was art because, and to the extent that, it failed to reproduce reality and had the same potential for artistic expression as painting and sculpture. In a series of books and monographs since then, he has moved from what could be considered a limited interest in film as such to the study of the broader aspects of artistic vision. In his latest book, Visual Thinking (1969), he has moved from a study of the visual arts to what might be called a general theory of cognition. Basically, he argues that the visual modes of experience and expression have been underutilized and slighted in American education. He argues further that all thinking is basically and primarily imagistic and based upon visual perception. In contrasting words and pictures, Arnheim argues:
The visual medium is so enormously superior because it offers structural equivalents to all characteristics of objects, events, relations. The variety of available visual shapes is as great as that of possible speech sounds, but what matters is that they can be organized according to readily definable patterns of which the geometric shapes are the most tangible illustration. The principal virtue of the visual medium is that of representing shapes in two dimensional and three-dimensional space, as compared with the one dimensional sequence of verbal language. This polydimensional space not only yields good thought models of physical objects or events, it also represents isomorphically the dimensions needed for theoretical reasoning. [1969:232. Emphasis added.]
This quotation seems to me representative of Arnheim's arguments, containing unsupported assertions about the superiority of the visual over the verbal, based upon vague and oversimplified notions of language, and assertions about reasoning-equally unsupported-based upon his previous assertions of the superiority of the visual.
Essentially Arnheim's argument and its appeal to the film buff rest upon the reasonable assertion that visual perception contains, or is part of, what we normally call "thinking." But he then seems to argue that if visual perception involves thought, all thought is visual.
Arnheim attacks a wide variety of linguists, psychologists, and others, and singles out the art historian Gombrich for special criticism. Arnheim argues that Gombrich "suggests that the world of the senses is an impenetrable puzzle and that images are understandable only when maker and beholder share a set of conventions, by which statements about visual reality can be coded and decoded" (1966: 139). The linguist Whorf is similarly criticized for his famous view that "segmentation of nature is an aspect of grammar. We cut up and organize the spread and flow of events as we do largely because, through our mother tongue, we are parties to an agreement to do so, not because nature is segmented in exactly that way for all to see" (Whorf 1956:240). Arnheim argues that these ideas are an "extraordinary perversion" of the true state of affairs, and that those who hold these and similar ideas are responsible for the fact that the visual arts are in such disrepute in educational circles today. He argues further that "we are the victims of [these] traditions according to which the senses furnish nothing better or worse than the raw materials of experience" (1966:137; emphasis added).
Arnheim never argues that thinking has no relation to language itself, but because of his commitment to certain psychological theories of visual perception which lead him to say that language "serves as a mere auxiliary to the primary vehicles of thought" (1969:243; emphasis added), he underestimates or denies the extent to which symbolic systems or conventions mediate our knowledge of the world.
The place of symbolic systems or conventions in human thinking has been powerfully represented by aestheticians and art historians (Gombrich 1961, 1963; Kris 1952; Goodman 1968; Wolfflin 1950), psychologists (Neisser 1967; Piaget 1970), anthropologists (Boas 1955; Lévi-Strauss 1963), linguists (Sapir 1921; Whorf 1956; Chomsky 1957, 1968), sociolinguists (Hymes et al. 1972; Labov 1966), and historians of science (Kuhn 1962). Essentially they have shown that what we see and what we think about is determined at the least as much by our symbolic systems and conventions for
representing the universe as by the universe itself. They have shown that pictures, verbal language, tales, myths, scientific theory, and speech itself do not depend only upon what is "out there" but also, and in large part, upon the structure of symbol systems that make up the culture.
In his zeal to argue against the idea that language and other symbol systems are central to the visual modes of expression and communication, Arnheim declares, "True visual education presupposes that the world can present its inherent qrder to the eye and that seeing consists in understanding this order" (1966:148). Therefore the works of such writers as Gombrich, Whorf, and Goodman, for example, are characterized by Arnheim as a "monumental attempt to devalue the contribution of perceptual observation" (1966:139). But Arnheim's views similarly devalue the role that language and other symbolic systems play in thinking about, organizing, and articulating man's impressions, perceptions, and thoughts about the world he lives in-the interior psychological and cultural world, as well as the external objective world. The consequences of this overemphasis on certain theories of mind leave one "at a loss," as Jonas in his review of Visual Thinking commented, as to "where to start getting straight so much mischief committed by overzeal in a noble cause" (1971). As we shall see below, this insistence upon visual primacy in thought and the subservient and even "perverse" nature assigned to language as a means of ordering the world has been taken as the unassailable premise for the arguments of the film theorists and teachers we shall now discuss.
It cannot be denied that a large number of young people throughout the world, and particularly in the United States, profess a deep love for film. A major reason for this, many of them say, is that they can "dig"-rather than understand-a film easily. They can just sit there and allow it to envelop them, to "wash all over" them. No wonder they find Arnheim's thesis that the world presents itself to them and all they have to do is keep their eyes open to understand it--so congenial. It fits a commonly expressed desire of youth to sit there and be "turned on." It is the world that presents, not they, not man.
Buckminster Fuller, in his introduction to Youngblood's Expanded Cinema, begins by telling us a science fiction fantasy. All the unborn children in the world are in communication with each other. They can communicate with each other in a total sense. These "superborn in the womb" plan to go on strike. They will not emerge because the world is in a mess created by the outsiders. If they do emerge, this
perfect communication they have with their fellows will be destroyed. He goes on:
All this brings us to this boolr by Gene Youngblood . . . the first of the youth who have emerged from childhood and schooling and social experience sufficiently undamaged . . . [to provide] world-around men with the most effective communication technique for speaking universal language to universal man. . . . Youngblood's book represents the most important metaphysical scenario for coping with all the ills of educational systems based only on yesterday's Newtonian-type thinking. Expanded Cinema is the beginning of a new era educational system itself. . . . Tomorrow's Expanded Cinema University . . . will weld metaphysically together the world community of man by the flux of understanding and the spontaneously truthful integrity of the child. [1970:34-35]
This spontaneously truthful integrity of the child, which exists in the womb where the child cannot see, will be accomplished for those who leave the womb by that great metaphysical welder-the film.
Youngblood says, "Expanded Cinema isn't a movie at all: like life it's a process of becoming, man's historical drive to manifest his consciousness outside of his mind, in front of his eyes. This is especially true in the case of the intermedia network of cinema and television which now functions as nothing less than the nervous system of mankind" (ibid.). Not only does the world present its reality directly through the eyes, but man becomes, man manifests his very consciousness, through film. It is nothing less than the nervous system of man. It is the science fiction dream come true.
Youngblood begins by adopting the assumption of visual primacy: "As a child of the new age . . . I am naturally hypersensitive to the phenomenon of vision. I have come to understand that all language is but substitute vision. . . . The new cinema has emerged as the only aesthetic language to match the environment in which we live" (ibid.:45, 76; emphasis added). In pursuing this point, he comes to a self-contradiction of which he seems unaware: "We are conditioned more by cinema and television than by nature" (ibid.: 54). "We have come to see that we don't really see, that 'reality' is more within than without. The objective and the subjective are one" (ibid. :46). "The world's not a stage, it's a TV documentary" (ibid.:78). There is a subtle shift in his thinking that culminates in a strange transformation toward a newer manifestation of visual primacy. "The filmmaker has not moved closer to actual unstylized reality itself but rather a reality prestyled to approximate our primary mode of knowing natural events: Television" (ibid.:80; emphasis added). It
is not the world out there that presents itself to us but rather a world given to us by television and having the inherent order of the medium itself.
Whereas Arnheim thinks of a structured universe already given, Youngblood posits a stylizing agent that acts upon the universe, that orders and styles what we see. TV is that agent: it prestyles. It is the medium itself that gives order to what we see. "Reality" is abandoned, and in its place is the primary giver of reality-television. This is not merely perverse. Although Expanded Cinema is replete with humanistic pieties and presents itself as an appeal to make people more human and more related, it is in fact based on an assumption necessary to the visual primacists: the denial of man's activity in the creation of his world. However, the concept of communication as a process by which men share a variety of symbol systems for handling meaning demands a recognition that man orders his films and his television programs, that man stylizes and prestylizes and presents his view of the world. It is only by treating man as a noncommunicator, as an animal that doesn't share any symbol system at all, that it can make sense to talk of reality presenting itself, or of television as a medium prestyling reality. Let us see how Youngblood develops his theme of noncommunication through film.
Because it [Expanded Cinema] is entirely personal it rests on no identifiable plot and is not probable. The viewer is forced to create along with the film, to interpret for himself what he is experiencing. If the information . . . reveals some previously unrecognized aspect of the viewer's relation to the circumambient universe . . . the viewer re-creates that discovery along with the artist, thus feeding back into the environment the existence of more creative potential which may in turn be used by the artist for messages of still greater eloquence and perception. [Ibid.:64-65]
A man creates. A viewer experiences and interprets. Perception itself is creation and discovery. Skill, taste, thought, meaning, concepts, ideas, are absent, as indeed, by definition, they must be. For the "unrecognized" is the core material for the formation of "creative potential." Youngblood seems to think that by willingly sacrificing communicative processes for personal, private perception and revelation, he is avoiding the dull, destructive, and uncreative aspects of film. Tyros in the arts always forget that creation and originality cannot even be recognized (or perceived) except within a context of convention and rulelike behavior--especially in the arts. It is not within the context of an ordered universe that art exists, but rather within the context of man's conventions for ordering that universe. But, for
Youngblood, revelation of the unrecognized is creation. If we achieve this, Youngblood continues, "we shall find that our community is no longer a community, and we shall begin to understand radical revolution" (ibid.).
Tomorrow's Expanded Cinema University will (according to Fuller) weld us together in a world community of man by the flux of understanding and the spontaneous and truthful integrity of the cinema child. This is a dream that breeds monsters. Instead of welding us together in a world community, Youngblood's ideas, as he himself tells us, will destroy community.
If these ideas were merely the jottings of Fulleresque, McLuhanite, and Madison Avenue acolytes, we could smugly ignore them as confined to the lunatic fringe. But we cannot ignore them, for they have become embedded in current educational thought. The movement to use film as an educational tool is permeated by these ideas, both to support programs in film education and to justify using film in such ways and for such purposes.
Let us turn now to a teacher. Chapter 1 of Film in the Classroom (Amelio 1971) is entitled "A Rationale for a High School Film Program." I will quote his five-point rationale in its entirety:
- Sixty-five percent of today's film audience is twenty-four years old or younger.
- For one-fourth or more of their waking hours, from infancy to adolescence, children live in a semantic environment their parents did not create or control.
- "Sesame Street," the TV program, reaches five million children, almost half of the nation's twelve million children under five.
- Eighty thousand college students are now enrolled in three thousand film courses.
- For every book the average college student reads, he views twenty films.
Not one of his reasons reflects any educational purpose at all. They are defensive and puerile. Reasons 1, 2, and 5 could as easily be given for studying rock music, sports, and, hopefully, sex. Reason 3, that "Sesame Street" reaches five million children under the age of five, is to me not even clear. Saturday morning cartoon television probably reaches ten million children under five, but perhaps "Sesame Street" is chosen because it is labeled education and therefore assumed to be education, while Saturday morning television is assumed not to be education. Argument 4, that eighty thousand college students are enrolled in film courses, puzzles me. Over two million college students are enrolled in ROTC, and what does that prove?
It is not that the arguments are bad or nonexistent, but rather that all too often a case for the study and use of film in the schools is made without the awareness of any educational justification for such study or use.
While Arnheim and Youngblood at least present complex arguments purporting to make a case for film and visual primacy, teachers themselves say that "whether the schools like it or not, film is here and it is vigorously affecting our children." Or, "for too many years schools have concentrated on teaching skills in verbal language. As a result, for many students in many schools 'tedium is the method'" (ibid.). Both Arnheim and Youngblood, as well as many others, argue convincingly for changes in emphasis in the teaching of communication modes. The issue is not whether we have overemphasized words in our educational system, but rather how and for what purpose we should introduce film into the educational process as a substitute for the "debased" verbal language.
In the second section of the book on film language, Amelio proposes to rectify what he considers to be the prevalent student attitude toward words: "Purpose: To train the student to become aware that the medium can be the message" (ibid.: 37). The reasoning seems to be: children are bored with school, the medium is the message, children watch movies, children do not read; ergo, teach film. Based on these reasons, one can honestly ask, why not teach hopscotch, or why not abolish school altogether?
It is almost with relief, therefore, that I find a place to state my own position. Film is a means of communication and instruction. Our problem is not in deciding that. The problems to which educators and communication researchers must address themselves are rather to describe (1) how film as a process of image-making in our culture comes about, how and under what conditions it becomes a form of communication, how one person can use it to articulate meaning about something, and how others who see the film can make meaning or sense of it; and (2) how knowledge of this process enables us to understand and to use film in the very process of education itself.
Education must be thought of as a special case of acculturation, the complex process by which a culture manages to ensure that almost all of its newly born become viable members of the group. In our culture, film, like television, books, newspapers, and other message systems, is institutionally organized and supported. Like school, it is a part of the acculturation process. Like verbal language and other symbol systems, film could not be a part of the acculturation
process if it were not also capable of being used to communicate. In this sense, communication requires that members of a social group share the meaning of the symbolic forms that they use.
Film communication may be considered as a social process whereby a transmitted signal is received primarily through visual receptors (and, often, sound receptors) and is then treated as a message from which content or meaning is inferred. Film, as a symbolic form, is a process of communication that employs film, the medium, with its technology of optics, emulsions, and cameras, to produce a piece of celluloid with a variable-density silver nitrate surface. It is man who creates film communication. This definition suggests that a piece of film, in and of itself, is meaningless-that meaning exists only in a special social and cognitive relationship between a filmmaker and a viewer. This relationship occurs when a viewer chooses to treat a film not as mere signals triggering perceptual awareness and biological responses, but as message units that have been put together intentionally and from which meaning may be inferred.
I suggest that in simplified form the process works something like this. First the filmmaker puts together or articulates a set of images in a nonrandom fashion in order to "tell" someone something, or in order to make someone "feel" something. The process of putting these film-image events together is a complex, intentional act requiring skill, knowledge, and creative ability. This organizing process takes place not only in planning but in photographing the actual images, and in the selection, rejection, and sequencing that make up the editing process. At some point, he decides to "release" his film. It is now no longer a personal act but a public and social one; it is a symbolic form available for participation in a communication process.
When another person sees this film, he must (depending on how one talks about such acts) receive it, decode it, or recreate it. Since meaning or content does not exist within the reel of acetate, the viewer must recreate it from the forms, codes, and symbolic events in the film. This definition of film communication would exclude films made, for example, by blind men who pointed a camera at random and sequenced their images in editing without being able to see them. For communication to occur, meaning must be implied by the creator and inferred by the viewer or recreator.
The use of film in education, then, must be understood to mean film communication: a method of image-making involving a set of conventions through which meaning is transmitted between people by a process of implication and inference. The piece of acetate in itself is not a communication, a panacea, a method, an instruction, or an education.
Those who wish to use film and to understand how film is, or
can be, a part of the communication process must therefore address themselves to the problem of describing exactly how and in what contexts viewers assume that the film-worker intends to express himself, to deliberately make implications from which viewers will infer his meaning.
A host of questions can now be raised which have until the last few years received very little study by those interested in film. How do people make implications with film? Is there a code-the schemata that Gombrich suggests? Is there a system? How do people make inferences from film? Do they know the code? How does one describe it? Is it like a language? Do all people, across cultures, language barriers, and social groupings use the same code? If not, are there different codes, used by different cultures? And, most important for those who are involved in the process of education: How do people learn to make statements in film, and how do people learn to make inferences from film (Note 4)?
There are two predominant uses of film in the classroom. First, and most frequent, is the substitution of films for books or lectures--that is, teaching through film. Second, and growing in popularity, is teaching about film. Teaching through film has been used since the invention of film itself. Films of "strange dances" by "primitive peoples" were made by German anthropologists and used in German gymnasiums in 1905. Films of animals and humans in motion were used by zoologists, anatomists, and artists to teach their various subject matters in universities, medical schools, and art schools as early as 1907. All of us must have seen many films describing such things as "other lands, other people," "community helpers," and so on. One need not review the variety and quantity of such films. They number in the
tens of thousands and represent the allocation of hundreds of millions of dollars.
What is important to note, however, is that the media entrepreneurs, both those engaged in the production of films for the class room and those engaged in the development and production of the hardware that these films use, act on the assumption that teaching through film is a preferred method, proven and accepted by the educational establishment. The points these entrepreneurs talk about in their brochures, conferences, and books are those of ease of use, availability of large collections of materials, and instant acceptability to the student. Educational administrators who buy and demand funds for these materials accept the basic premises on which the audiovisual industry operates. Gross (1974) makes clear that there is a genuine question about whether the use of film or pictures as a teaching device is effective in achieving any of the commonly stated goals of education.
At best, film used this way has one massive advantage. It allows schools to perform a custodial function more easily. Film "to teach through" can be administered, like mass injections, at the will of the school administrator. Unlike a book, which a student must read on his own, a film can be administered to hundreds and even thousands at a time in classrooms and assemblies. The only problem is getting the student to stay awake, and hence the development and use of d advertising-commercial techniques--as in "Sesame Street"--that will keep his eyes glued to the screen.
In recent years there has been a movement toward the recognition of this deficiency of the so-called teaching through film. Not only are these films not particularly suited for developing intelligence (in the Piagetian sense to be discussed later), but they do not address themselves to what this new movement has called "film literacy"-- teaching about film.
The film literacy movement, developed in England after World War II and expanded in the United States since the middle 1950s (Hodgkinson 1964; Peters 1961), takes as its aim the development of abilities in the child that will enable him to understand the techniques and "language" of film. By and large, however, the movement is devoted to showing commercial films, having the children learn a new terminology consisting of words such as fade, dissolve, truck, pan, zoom, and cut, and discussing the films they have seen as examples of literature, history, plot development, mood, emotional experience, and so on. Amelio suggests that "the student can learn how film differs from other art forms, how important the director is, and why film editing is an art. Thus our goal is to develop in the student a basis
for criteria for aesthetic awareness so that he can evaluate film" (1971:37). The films shown in his lesson plan range from Potemkin through This is Marshall McLuhan: The Medium Is the Massage to How to Use the Griswold Splicer, not neglecting Citizen Kane and other "classics."
The goal is exemplary. The question is whether we know the answer to such questions as "why film editing is an art," or whether watching films and discussing them is the best way to teach students a basis for aesthetic awareness. An even more cogent question is whether this approach will lead toward the research and analysis necessary for educators to understand how film works and what potential uses it has for education.
It is not only that film and television pervade our culture and help us form our attitudes, values, and ways of organizing experience, but that this happens in ways that are very poorly understood, either by the researchers or by the children and young adults whose attitudes are thus formed. If film literacy were needed only as an antidote to film itself, it would still be worthwhile to understand it and to teach it. But an understanding of this mode of communication has much deeper implications for the very concept of education itself.
Many authors have shown that understanding the process of thought itself requires an understanding of a variety of symbolic modes through which we relate to our environment, become human, and become members of our culture (Gombrich 1961, 1963; Kris 1952; Olson 1970; Gross 1974; Worth 1969; Worth and Adair 1970). It is clear that thinking is a multimodal symbolic process that uses much more than words. It is not necessary to argue that words are inferior, debased, or unnecessary to make the point that more than a knowledge of verbal language is involved in education. It does not necessarily make sense to argue for the primacy of the visual any more than it does to argue for the primacy of the mathematical, the verbal, or the musical. What is needed is to show how a knowledge of the use of a particular mode can help in the development of the thinking and behaving capacity of the human organism.
The ability of the child to function as a creative human being in his society rests on his ability to organize his experience, while he both perceives it and thinks about it, and to articulate his attitudes, judgments, statements, and inventions about himself and his uni verse in such a way as to be understood by his fellows. Education is a process by which we not only learn to take in an environment, but in which we develop ways to communicate about it to others--by choice and by intention.
Of course, men "say" things by pictures and by film--things, it is important to note, that they could not and did not choose to say by music, by dance, or by verbal language. Film is one mode in which people can record image-events, organize them to imply meaning, and through them communicate to others.
Making a film not only can help a child learn how films are made or why they are art, but can help him to learn how to manipulate images in his head, how to think with them, and how to communicate through them. I have used the phrase "making a film," as opposed to "studying film" or "learning film literacy," to emphasize what I consider to be the crucial aspect involved in the use of film in education; of course one can learn to some degree how to achieve a certain effect by watching, as well as by making films.
Making a film can be part of a process of teaching children how to understand and to use the visual mode in thinking and communication. Listening alone is not the best way to teach people to play the violin or to compose symphonies; neither are looking and talking the best ways to teach people to use the visual mode. Gross has summarized much of the research in the acquisition of competence in symbolic modes:
All competence in a skillful mode is acquired on the basis of constant practice and repetition. . . . One achieves competence in a medium by slowly building on routines which have been performed over and over until they have become tacit and habitual. . . . It is on the basis of a repertoire of often repeated actions that the child can begin to introduce and perceive slight variations and thus extend the range of his perceptual-intellectual competence to more complex forms of organized behavior.
The acquisition of competence in modes of symbolic communication entails the learning of the "vocabulary" for representing objects and events proper to a particular mode, and of the "grammatical" and "syntactical" operations, transformations, and organizational principles which are used to structure these into conveyors of meaning and intention. [1974:73]
Filmmaking, like other modes of expression and communication, must be done, to be understood fully.
Communication, and perhaps all social behavior, requires that the initiator of such behavior must put himself, whether consciously or not, into the role of the receiver. Social behavior does not occur just because people are there; it occurs between people who relate to the symbolic nature of their behavior in some shared way. It is social because we have made it so, no matter how deeply embedded such
behavior may be in primary biological processes. Seeing a tree bend in the wind and making attributions from that observation to the probability of rain in the future is different from showing in a film a close-up of a tree bending in the wind. In the latter case the filmmaker is using the image of the tree to imply something in the context of other images he has put together. He--the filmmaker--assumes in the potential viewer a shared ability to perform certain perceptual, cognitive, and interpretative procedures upon the film. He places himself in a viewer's shoes and is able to test the viewer's behavior by checking it with his own, by assuming that they have agreed in some way to think about things in the same way. As I write this, I read it over, and place myself in the reader's position in order to judge whether what I am writing can be understood as I want it to be. I attribute to the reader a set of mental operations and skills similar to my own.
Conversely, when one reads, one places oneself for a moment in the position of a writer. One assumes intention, judgment, choices, meaning, and other things on the part of the author. If I didn't assume that a book was meant to communicate to me, I could read it for only one purpose to use it as a stimulant for my own purposes. It would cease to be a social object and would become a piece of the environment to which I might respond as to water, sunshine, marijuana, or a toothache.
So with a film. When a viewer sees a film, he may, for a variety of contextual and cultural reasons, assume intentionality, purpose, meaning, and order. If so, he will treat it as a possible communication. If he does not assume an intention to communicate, he can only respond as one does to the inanimate universe. A viewer assumes, for example, that if a shot of a wind-bent tree occurs, it was put there, and he may further assume that, as in a story, it is there for some purpose. The child will assume, for example, that some films tell "a story," and further, he will "know" how stories are formed in his culture and will place the images he sees into story forms that "make sense" to him.
In our culture, however, most knowledge that children and adults have of film is viewer knowledge. It is difficult for them to place themselves in the role of the filmmaker. Most of us don't know what a filmmaker does when he puts a film together. A vague notion that films are "true," are "worth a thousand words," and somehow just come to be underlies our own behavior toward film. It is true, as Arnheim has pointed out most forcefully, that education has ignored pictures, and truer (if that use of true makes sense) that education has ignored teaching how films make sense.
Two educational questions emerge: first, can everyone be taught to make films? Second, are there indeed rules that govern the organization of the pictured world for communicating through film?
Research by Worth (1966), Worth and Adair (1972), Chalfen (1974), and others has answered the first question. Almost anyone who can hold a camera and has the cognitive and manual dexterity to type, for example, can learn to make a film. Children in the United States and England as young as eight have made 16-mm. movies. In our own research, black and white girls and boys who ranged from lower-class dropouts to middle-class high school students, and from eleven to twenty-five years of age, have learned to make professional-looking 16-mm. movies. In a detailed research program, we have taught Navajos ranging in age from sixteen to sixty, some of whom spoke no English, to make such movies. All of these people learn easily, are extremely motivated, and are able to deal with complex and creative ideas.
It is the concept of sequence--the ability to arrange many image events in an ordered fashion to produce implications--that contains within it the major significance for education in visual symbolic manipulation and articulation. Educational programs could reasonably aim at developing and strengthening the child's skills in organizing his visual world for purposes of both thinking and communicating. Film offers a new means or mode of cognition and communication that stands parallel to the established modes; hence, it does not deny the intellectual, creative, and social values upon which our society is based. Giving up the dependence on words alone does not necessitate throwing out either verbal language or the cognitive skills associated with the ability to speak, read, and write.
For research purposes, at least, it is reasonable to give movie cameras to people of varying ages and cultures, show them how to use the equipment, and study and analyze how they behave when they organize themselves as filmmakers and how they organize the images they make by editing. Our own research is an attempt to discover if there are rules and codes of communication that all people, or at least groups of people, share when they attempt to make movies (Worth and Adair 1972). We want to find out how communicating by means of movies relates to the verbal language and culture of various peoples. A question remains as to whether there are different patterns, rules, structures, or even "languages" that people use when they make and view films. Related to that question, and perhaps even more important, is the question of how children in a particular cultural context learn these rules.
The use of film in education therefore depends not upon the
naive assumption that nature or reality presents itself directly, but rather upon a more elaborate conception of intelligence.
The problem of intelligence, and with it the central problem of the pedagogy of teaching, has thus emerged as linked with the fundamental epistemological problem of the nature of knowledge: does the latter constitute a copy of reality or, on the contrary, an assimilation of reality into a structure of transformations? The ideas behind the knowledge-copy concept have not been abandoned, far from it, and they continue to provide the inspiration for many educational methods, even, quite often, for those intuitive methods in which the image and audio-visual presentations play a role that certain people tend to look upon as the ultimate triumph of educational progress. [Piaget 1970b:28]
Piaget--and here it is worthwhile reminding ourselves of the arguments presented in the first part of this paper--describes the functions of intelligence as consisting "in understanding and in inventing, in other words, in building up structures by structuring reality" (1970b:27). The process of filmmaking is precisely such a process. It is a process of structuring reality, because a filmmaker must collect a set of image-events on film and must build up a set of structures by ordering and organizing these image-events into a communication sequence. The cognitive patterns, structures, rules, or "languages" involved in making implications with, and inferences from, film are precisely the means of structuring reality afforded by the process of filmmaking.
In our research (Worth and Adair 1972) Navajos were told that they could "make movies of anything they wanted in any way they wanted." They were taught the use of motion-picture equipment but not the "right" or "appropriate" way to photograph, what to photo graph, or how to structure the image-events they had recorded. Would the Navajos use the cameras at all, and, if they did, what images would they take? What rules for organizing images would evolve? Was this ordering process by which they structured their reality through filmed images related to their language, narrative style, myth form, or other modes of communication?
The Navajos learned to use the cameras easily. On the first day of instruction, they learned how to operate a Bell and Howell triple lens turret movie camera, how to load it, how to take exposure readings, and how to use the lenses for viewing and shooting. On the second day, they were given a hundred feet of film and told to "use the camera -for practice- to do anything you want." Almost all of our six Navajo students "discovered" the editing process in the first
days of working with film. One of the students wondered whether if he "put film of pieces of a horse (close-ups) between pictures of a whole horse (long shot), people would know that the pieces belonged to the whole horse." He thought about this, shooting "pieces" of the horse one day and shooting "whole horses" at a squaw dance the following week. He then spliced the pieces "in between" the whole horse, and after he looked at the result on a projector he declared, "When you paste pieces of a horse in between pictures of a whole horse, people will think it's part of the whole horse. That's what I think it is with film." It is difficult to know how Johnny "learned" this rule, but no matter how he learned it, Johnny after two days "knew" that people infer that a close-up acts as a modifier of a long shot in certain circumstances. Further, he not only assumed that one could manipulate film by sequences and spatial organization (close-up and long shot), but also seemed to know that certain shots "had to go" with others while certain other shots "didn't go" with others.
We were also able to show that the Navajos organized certain sequences in their films in conformity with the rules of the Navajo language. That is, certain classes of objects in the "real" world were connected by the Navajo language to special grammatical structures, and the Navajos assumed that images of these same classes of objects had to be connected in a film sequence in ways similar to the ways they were connected in speech. Specific sequences were often organized according to Navajo linguistic rules. Also, the very images and methods they used when they chose to tell a story on film were similar to the images and methods they chose when they told myths and stories in words.
It might be thought that the Navajos, or other filmmakers, would depict on film the reality they ordinarily experience. This also was shown to be an oversimplification. When an act or a sequence of actions in a film comes into conflict with that culture's rules of narrative organization, often "reality" and "history" are changed to con form to "how stories are told." The same filmmaker had a Navajo silversmith in his film mining silver to make jewelry. When con fronted with the fact that the Navajos never mined their own silver, he replied, "It has to be that way-that's how you tell a story on film." In Navajo myth and religion, all things have to start at their origin. It was not a question of reality presenting itself to Johnny. It was Johnny manipulating and ordering reality in order to structure the world in a communicable manner.
Many of the editing techniques that the Navajos used were unfamiliar to us, or "wrong." The Navajos frequently cut in ways
that had people jumping around the screen as if by magic. A boy who was walking toward a tree from the left would suddenly jump to the right side of the screen on the other side of the tree, or a man kneeling would suddenly appear walking. When asked whether these sequences looked "funny" or had "something wrong" in them, the Navajos were at a loss to answer, even though they knew they had made a "mistake," and they wanted to give the right answer. Finally we had to ask point-blank, "Doesn't it look funny to have Sam suddenly go from kneeling to walking?" The filmmakers answered, "Oh-of course not! Everyone knows that if he is walking, he must have got up." Or in the case of the boy and the tree, when we asked a similar question, they replied, "No, it's not funny-that's not wrong-you see, why should I show him behind the tree? Everyone knows that if he's first here and then there, he got there. When he's behind the tree, you can't see him walking anyway."
It might be said that this represents a lack of ability on their part, or that all beginners make "mistakes" like that. On the contrary. For example, black youngsters in Philadelphia, aged eleven to fourteen, were taught in the same way as the Navajos and produced a film that was edited as smoothly as any half-hour television series film. The black youngsters had "learned" how to structure the universe "our" way, either by merely being a part of our culture that "sees" that way or by having been brought up on movies and television that structure that way.
These studies detail many levels of such structuring, ranging from the different things that people of different cultures choose to photograph and make films about to the specific ways that certain sequences are organized and manipulated to imply meaning, according to the tacit cognitive rules employed by the filmmakers.
In current research, Larry Gross and I (cf. chapter 5) are exploring the developmental process by which children learn to interpret visual symbolic events. At what age, for example, do children learn to make inferences from a film? That is, at what age do they begin to say that their responses to a film come from what the film "says," rather than from what they already know? In the former case, children are inferring; in the latter, they are attributing. When a child says, "The doctor in the movie was a good doctor, because doctors help people, and that's good," and yet the doctor in the movie didn't help people, the child is not inferring, but attributing meaning to an image. How ever, another child says, "The doctor is not a nice man." You ask him how he knows, and he replies,"Because you showed him, in that picture, not helping a man hurt in an accident." This child can be said to be making inferences from the film. How does this development
occur? When does a child learn to deal with the film structure of his society? How does one teach him? What structures help him to become creative and to make inferences, and what structures encourage passivity and attribution? Does film competence develop in a way analogous to linguistic competence? An understanding of this competence and its acquisition is necessary not only for the production of an artistic product, but also for the development of children's intellectual skills. In film, as in verbal language, man develops his to communicate to the extent that he learns to structure reality by symbolic means.
It is not that film is language or is structured in the same way as verbal language (Worth 1969), but rather that all of man's cognitive abilities are related. When a child learns the concept of metaphor in language, he is all the more able to use it in other modes, both in implication and inference. When the child develops his ability to create cognitive structures as he learns to talk, he is developing the ability to create them in pictures and in film. It may even be true, as Arnheim states, that "the thinking on which all learning is based takes place at the source. . . ." (1966:148). I assume that by "the source" he means the eye in its first contact with an object. But that is certainly not where education and instruction must stop. Arnheim completes the sentence, ". . . and continues to draw on it." It is not the source that we must deal with and continue to draw upon, but rather the child's ability to do something with it. It is literally inconceivable that one mode of symbolic thought operates with a presented universe that arrives ready-made to man's brain, while other modes somehow require the mind to manipulate and to structure. Film, like verbal language, like gesture, mathematics, music, painting, and dance, is a method by which different people articulate their experience and present themselves to one another. What we need to know is more about how this is done across modes, across codes, and across cultures.
What kinds of problems and questions, then, must we set before ourselves in order to understand how to teach film and what to teach with it?
The research that I have briefly outlined is clearly only the very beginning of such study. We need to know more about how audiences in different cultures, and those with different social positions in one culture, make inferences from film and how these inferences may differ across cultures.
Let us now consider the institutional implications of developing
in our children the ability to utilize pictures in a way similar to that in which they speak, read, and write their verbal language. Are we preparing them for the encounter with other cultures that will become possible through film and satellite television distribution? That world will be a place where almost anyone can produce verbal and visual images, where individuals or groups can edit, arrange, and rearrange the visualization of their outer and inner worlds, and where these movies or television films can be instantaneously available to anyone who chooses to look.
Imagine a world where symbolic forms created by one inhabitant are instantaneously available to all other inhabitants, where "knowing others" means that others frequently know us and that we know them through the images that we all create about ourselves and our world, as we see it, feel it, and choose to make it available to a massive communication network hungry for images to fill the capacity of its coaxial cables.
Imagine this place, so different from the society within which we nourish our middle-class souls, in which symbolic forms are not the property of a "cultured," technological, or economic elite, but are rather ubiquitous and multiplying like a giant cancer (or, conversely, unfolding like a huge and magnificent orchid) and available for instant transmission to the entire world.
It is technologically feasible right now, through the use of cable television and communications satellites, for a moving image with its accompanying sound to be broadcast from any place in our solar system and to be simultaneously received in hundreds of millions or even all homes attached to the wire. It is further possible for all homes to have their choice of the hundreds of messages that are simultaneously available.
We have passed the stage in our educational processes where the teacher had to present "our" views of the strange antics of "others." We are now at the point where the teacher should know how to teach us to "tell" others about ourselves visually, through movies and television. The teacher must also know how to analyze new symbol systems, for other people will be creating new forms for their old myths about themselves, and our own children must be taught how to do that also. In the past, teachers could ignore the goals of visual literacy while pursuing those of verbal literacy. But now it is impossible to ignore the fact that people all over the world have learned, and will continue in great numbers to learn, how to use the visual symbolic mode. Communication researchers must begin to articulate the problems that will face us in trying to understand others when their
point of view is known to us primarily through movies distributed by broadcast television and cable. How can we help our students and future teachers to overcome the inevitable tension between the world they will study and their own cultural backwardness in the face of a mass-distributed visual symbolic mode?
It is necessary to develop theories and methods for describing and analyzing how men show each other who they are and how they are. Theories of vidistics (Worth 1968) must be developed to supplement other linguistic, psychological, anthropological, and educational theories, in order to comprehend how people who organize their film in ways different from ours are understood or not understood. In a world in which people of other cultures are being taught to make movies and television, in a world in which our own children are learning to make movies and are being increasingly acculturated and educated through film and television, can the teacher afford to remain a "blind mute"? For a blind mute can never have anything to say to a person who respects visual "speaking" and whose culture demands social interaction through pictures. What I am suggesting for the teacher, then, as a first step, is the development of the capacity to express himself through film, as an artist, if possible, but primarily as a simple "speaker" in this new mode of communication. But the teacher cannot rest with the "speaker in film" ability alone. The native speaker has no need to articulate how he knows how to speak and understand his language. The teacher of film and visual communication must know more than how to speak; he must know how he knows how to speak and how others speak. He must, in fact, not only be taught to make movies as children, Navajos, and others all over the world will be taught; he must learn how to teach others and must formulate theories about what to teach others.
It is when we begin to think about the problem of teaching film and television to others that we must face a host of ethical problems. In teaching people to read, we implicitly teach them what to read. In teaching people to speak, or, as is the case with most people, when they learn to speak, they also learn what to say and what not to say, and to whom, and on what occasion. The use of a mode of communication is not easily separable from the specific codes and rules about the content of that mode. Speaking is something that most people do anyway; we do not have to teach it. Film and television are not something that most people do-at this time. Someone has to teach it. Whoever teaches it will have a large and powerful impact upon the culture and intellectual development of the people using it and viewing it.
Up to this point in the development of our educational institutions, teachers have concentrated on reading, writing, and arithmetic, without great concern for the underlying political issues. Who controls the mass media that children, through the development of these skills, are getting access to? With the advent of a wired planet, a planet in which movies and television produced by diverse peoples are available to almost all, teaching about film must include teaching how film and other visual modes are produced, distributed, and controlled. Is it enough for the teacher to concentrate only on individual cognitive processes when he teaches and trains others to teach filmmaking, or must he also concern himself with how these media influence other people and institutions as well?
Further ethical problems exist. Some of our studies, in which we compared films made by black, white, and Navajo young people, show clear differences in these groups' social organization around filmmaking, thematic choices of material and subject matter, and attitudes toward the use of film. For example, analysis of our current studies suggests that blacks prefer to manipulate themselves as image; they want to be in the film. Whites prefer to manipulate the image of others, as producers, directors, or cameramen. While the films made by black groups involve behavior close to home and neighborhood, the white teenagers' films are often about the exotic, the distant, the faraway. They rarely show their own block, their own homes, or their own selves.
Hence the use of film in education and communication involves more than teaching our children about film or how to make film. It will require the sensitive guidance of teachers who know how to teach about film as communication, so as to foster the development of personal intelligence and cultural sensitivity.
With the advent of a wired planet, control of the use of film in education not only means understanding how to teach through films, how to teach about films, and how to make films; it consists also in knowing how to control the use of educational film and television in the mass media themselves. "Sesame Street" and other programs using it as a model are now part of the educational system. By such programs, our children are being "educated" to consume, rather than to create. Educators themselves constitute the largest and only group of professionals involved in the making of educational film, in television, and with teaching machines, who have no training at ail in the use or the analysis of film as a process of communication. Hence it is mandatory that we teach teachers the very things that I have argued have to be taught to children.
The major concern that I have voiced in this paper relates to the reasons and theories upon which an increasingly large number of people in education base their case for the use of film in educational practice. Certainly, film and visual communication should receive greater attention from schools and educators. What I disagree with are the assumptions underlying the educators' arguments. The assumption of visual primacy, with its attendant uncritical film ideology, gives an unfortunate bias to research problems, to teaching methods, and to curricula, as well as to theories of education and public policy. The truth is not that the visual is psychologically, culturally, and sensually the primary way of experiencing and know ing the world, but rather that the visual mode of communication, along with other modes, permits us to understand, control, order, and thus articulate the world and our experiences. The process of becom ing intelligent is the process of "building up structures by structuring reality" (Piaget 1970b). Filmmaking could become one of the important tools by which we allow and help the child, as well as the adult, to develop skill in building cognitive structures and in structuring reality in a creative, communicative way. Although we can teach through film, we must begin to understand how the structure of film itself and the visual modes in general structure our ways of organizing experience. Salomon (1972), for example, has shown that exposure to the kind of short, choppy sequences used in "Sesame Street" has a profound effect on a second grader's perseverance.
Film, as Youngblood and Fuller seem to indicate, may be the way we can destroy community. The way we study visual communication, the questions we ask, and the way we teach people to make films and to look at films may very well determine this larger social question. It is my hope, therefore, that this paper may lead some to question current theories, ideologies, methods, and research approaches in the uses of film in communication and education.
1. This paper is reprinted with permission from Media and Symbols: The Forms of Expression Communication, and Education. Seventy-third yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, Part 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), pp. 271-302--Ed. Return.
2. The best summaries of this body of research, in my opinion, may be found in Hoban and van Ormer 1972; Hoban 1971; and McKeachie 1967. Return.
3. At the latest conference (October 1972) of the National Association of Media Educators, Amelio's book was singled out as the "kind of book we need more of" and was held up as an example for younger "media educators." Return.
4. For a fuller explanation of the concept of implication/inference in communicative interpretation see Worth and Gross (1974, chapter 5, below). Briefly, one "implies" through film when one organizes images in such a conventionalized manner that a viewer can infer meaning from the organization or structure of the film, justifying his interpretation by calling into evidence some formal properties of the film itself. For example, "In that sequence the filmmaker means that the policeman is a pig, because first he shows a close-up of the policeman and then shows a close-up of a pig." Or, as in the case of Birth of a Nation, "Griffith means to say that people in the North and people in the South faced the same problems, because he has a long shot of the woman in the northern city waving goodbye to her husband, then a long shot of the woman in the southern city doing the same, then a close-up of the first woman tearing a lace handkerchief in grief followed by a close-up of the second woman doing a similar thing. When you have similar shots of different people, it always means you have to put them together in your head." Return
Go to Introduction
Go to Chapter One
Go to Chapter Two
Go to Chapter Three
Go to Chapter Five
Go to Table of Contents
Go to Index
©1996 Tobia Worth. All Rights Reserved.